The Last Day
When the last day comes
A ploughman in Europe will look over his shoulder
And see the hard furrows of earth
Finally behind him, he will watch his shadow
Run back into his spine.
It will be morning
For the first time, and the long night
Will be seen for what it is,
A black flag trembling in the sunlight.
On the last day
Our stories will be rewritten
Each from the end,
And each will end the same;
You will hear the fields and rivers clap
And under the trees
Will cover themselves with flesh;
Spears, bullets, will pluck themselves
From wounds already healed,
Women will clasp their sons as men
And men will look
Into their palms and find them empty;
There will be time
For us to say the right things at last,
To look into our enemy's face
And see ourselves,
Forgiven now, before the books flower in flames,
The mirrors return our faces,
And everything is stripped from us,
Even our names.
Kevin John Hart was born on 5th July 1954. An Anglo-Australian theologian, philosopher and poet, his poem 'The Last Day' was published in 'Flame Tree', Selected Poems, Bloodaxe/Paperbark, 2003.
As we approach the last day of 2017 we wish you good health and happiness in the New Year and beyond.
Poem posted on Saturday 30th December 2017.
When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil's walking parody
On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.
G. K. Chesterton
Gilbert Keith Chesterton was born in Kensington, London on 29th May 1874 and died in Beaconsfield, Bucks., on 14th June 1936. Of the many roles available within the Fellowship of Letters, from philosopher to poet and back again, few were excluded from his repertoire, the sum total of which crowned him with the reputation of 'Prince of Paradox'. You might consider his 'Donkey' a strong contestant for the jewel in this crown?
If you happen to be in Buckinghamshire you could pay your respects at his grave in the Roman Catholic Cemetery, Beaconsfield.
'The Donkey' was published in 'Collected Poems of G. K. Chesterton', Dodd, Mead & Company, 1927.
Poem posted on Wednesday 27th December 2017.
in a department store
Wolsey, or possibly John of Gaunt,
Was the best thing I did. Come over here,
Behind the Christmas crib. (I'm not supposed
To let the children see me having tea.)
To tell the truth I'm glad of this engagement.
Dozens applied, but all they said was Thank you,
We'll stick to Mr. Borthwick.
It's nice to feel one has given satisfaction.
Time was I had it all at my finger-tips,
Could plant a whisper in the back of the pit,
Or hold them breathless with the authority
Of absolute repose - a skill despised,
Not seen, in your day. It amounts to this:
Technique's no more than the bare bones. There are some
Unwittingly instil the faith that Man
Is greater than he knows. This I fell short of.
You never met my wife. You are too young.
She often came with me on tour. One night
At Nottingham, got back from the show, and there
She was. I knew at once what made her do it.
She had resented me for years. No, not
Myself, but what she knew was in me, my
Belief in - Sir, forgive me if I say
My 'art', for I had shown, you'll understand,
Some promise. To use her word, she felt herself
'Usurped', and by degrees, unconsciously,
She managed somehow to diminish me,
Parch all my vital streams. A look would do it.
I was a kind of shrunken river-bed
Littered with tins, old tyres, and bicycle frames.
Well, that was years ago, and by then too late
To start afresh. Yet all the while I loved her.
Explain that if you can... By all means, madam,
Those clocks are very popular this year.
I'll call the man in charge. No, there's no risk
Of damage. They pack the cuckoo separately.
Christopher Vernon Hassall was born in London on 21st March 1912 and died in Rochester, Kent on 25th April 1963. Between these dates, after education at Wadham, Oxford, he worked as actor, dramatist, librettist, lyricist and poet, yet his name is nowhere near as widely known as that of Ivor Novello to whom he became understudy, and it was during this period that Novello invited him to write the lyrics for his show, 'Glamorous Night' (1935). People of my age might remember hearing their parents singing 'Shine Through My Dreams' whilst doing the veggies in the kitchen or, later from 'The Dancing Years', 'I Can Give You The Starlight' filtering with the Friday night steam from the bathroom. Hassall's lyrics, if not his name, became sung the world over.
From such a life, it is easy to imagine the strong but mixed emotions behind the speaker's outpourings in 'Santa Claus'.
Hassall lived at Tonford Manor by the river Stour on the outskirts of Canterbury. He died suffering a heart attack in a railway carriage at Rochester, Kent, after having run to catch the train to London to see his daughter dance in a Royal Ballet School performance at Covent Garden.
We feel sure that Christopher Hassall and all our posted poets would join us in wishing you comfort at Christmas.
Poem posted on Saturday 23rd December 2017.
Journey of the Magi
'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melted snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation,
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky.
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived that evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our palaces, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their goods.
I should be glad of another death.
(1888 - 1965)
Of Thomas Stearns Eliot, OM, his life and his poetry, the plethora of available writings is so huge that, laid out line by line, it would probably reach from here to his birth-place in St. Louis, Missouri, USA; but you wouldn't arrive in time for Christmas. What more need be said?
Poem posted on Wednesday 20th December 2017.
Christmas at the Orphanage
But if they'd give us toys and twice the stuff
most parents splurge on the average kid,
orphans, I submit, need more than enough;
in fact, stacks wrapped with our names nearly hid
the tree where sparkling allotments yearly
guaranteed a lack of - what? - family? -
I knew exactly what it was I wanted:
(did each boy there feel the same denials?)
to share my pals' tearing open their piles
meant sealing the self, the child that wanted
to scream at all You stole those gifts from me;
whose birthday is worth such words? The wish-lists
they'd made us write out in May lay granted
against starred branches. I said I'm sorry.
(1940 - 2014)
William Kilborn Knott was born on 17th February 1940 in Carson City, USA. Poet and writer, he taught at Emerson College, Boston, Massachusetts for some 25 years and published many books of poetry, winning him the Iowa Poetry Prize and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He died on 12th March 2014.
Postscript: you may have a Christmas wish-list of your own, and we are delighted to tell you that Santa Claus himself is planning to visit this website in good time for Christmas, so best keep a lookout !
Poem posted on Saturday 16th December 2017.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
(1849 - 1903)
William Ernest Henley, poet, critic and editor, was born on 23rd August 1849 in Gloucester, England and died on11th July 1903 in Woking, England. His childhood was marred by illness and from the age of about twelve he suffered from tuberculosis of the bone in his left leg which had to be amputated below the knee when in his late teens. Strong spirited, he overcame this disability and developed into a well-built broad-shouldered man of verve and vitality, cheerful and active despite the need of a crutch. He was a friend of Robert Louis Stevenson, author of 'Treasure Island', who readily confessed having based the character Long John Silver on the crutchéd Henley.
Invictus (Latin: unconquered), the word, has become widely written, seen and heard recently and the deeds performed by amputees and otherwise disabled people, under its title, have filled sports arenas and TV screens the world over, raising the spirits and endeavours of the more fortunate among us. Henley's poem becomes a powerful mantra.
Poem posted on Wednesday 13th December 2017.
Too Much of a Fag
Observe the poor old smoker,
How sheepishly he stands
Upon the frozen pavement,
A fag cupped in his hands.
His clothes are never fragrant,
His breath is never clean,
He is shunned by his companions
And hooked on nicotine.
See down the blasted alleyway,
Whipped by each rainy gust,
He cowers into doorways,
Inhaling, craved with lust.
His respiratory system,
If he could just have looked,
Is black as all damnation
And like his goose...
(from 'Surgically Enhanced', Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, 2006)
Pam Ayres brings closer up to date the ongoing concern with 'the weed' which Raymond Tallis wrote about in 'Player's' Please', posted here on Wednesday 25th January 2017.
Poem posted on Saturday 9th December 2017.
On the Farm
There was Dai Puw. He was no good.
They put him in the fields to dock swedes,
And took the knife from him when he came home
At late evening with a grin
Like the slash of a knife on his face.
There was Llew Puw, and he was no good.
Every evening after the ploughing
With the big tractor he would sit in his chair,
And stare into the tangled fire garden,
Opening his slow lips like a snail.
There was Huw Puw, too. What shall I say?
I have heard him whistling in the hedges
On and on, as though winter
Would never again leave those fields,
And all the trees were deformed.
And lastly there was the girl:
Beauty under some spell of the beast.
Her pale face was the lantern
By which they read in life's dark book
The shrill sentence: God is love.
(from 'Collected Poems 1945-1990, J.M. Dent, 1993)
Please see 'They' (posted Sat 28 Oct 17) for biog note.
Poem posted on Wednesday 6th December 2017.
It is eighteen years ago, almost to the day -
A sunny day with the leaves just turning,
The touch-lines new-ruled - since I watched you play
Your first game of football, then, like a satellite
Wrenched from its orbit, go drifting away
Behind a scatter of boys. I can see
You walking away from me towards the school
With the pathos of a half-fledged thing set free
Into a wilderness, the gait of one
Who finds no path where the path should be.
That hesitant figure, eddying away
Like a winged seed loosened from its parent stem,
Has something I never quite grasp to convey
About nature's give-and-take - the small, the scorching
Ordeals which fire one's irresolute clay.
I have had worse partings, but none that so
Gnaws at my mind still. Perhaps it is roughly
Saying what God alone could perfectly show -
How selfhood begins with a walking away,
And love is proved in the letting go.
C. Day Lewis
(1904 - 1972)
Cecil Day-Lewis CBE (with or without the hyphen which was introduced by Cecil's father coupling his own birth surname Day with his adoptive father's name Lewis; Cecil himself later dropped the hyphen) was an Anglo-Irish poet born in Ballintubbert, Ireland. Brought up in London, he was educated at Sherborne School and Wadham College, Oxford. He was UK poet laureate from 1968 until his death in 1972. He is buried at St. Michael's church, Stinsford, Dorset.
His poem 'Walking Away' adequately speaks for itself and, no doubt, for millions more.
Poem posted on Saturday 2nd December 2017.
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
(1874 - 1963)
Robert Lee Frost was born on 26th March 1874 in San Francisco, California, USA. and died on 29th January 1963 in Boston, Massachusetts. His life took him to a number of addresses in the States and he spent some time in England where among the friends he made was Edward Thomas. Frost became one of America's best loved poets and in 1961 was made poet laureate of Vermont. His appeal was international; he had, and still has a sizeable following in the UK.
Of 'The Road Not Taken' he said that it was open to misinterpretation but he had based the poem's speaker on his friend Edward Thomas, a person who, whichever road he went, would feel sorry for not having chosen the alternative route/decision/action. Some readers see in the narrative the intention to encourage them towards free-thinking, not to follow the crowd and meekly go with the flow.
The poem certainly works on me because it spreads the cards onto the table, leaves me to choose, but never tells me whether I've won or lost.
And still I return to the table.
Poem posted on Wednesday 29th November 2017.
The Way Through The Woods
They shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath,
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.
Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate,
(They fear not men in the woods,
Because they see so few);
You will hear the beat of a horse's feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods...
But there is no road through the woods.
For notes on Kipling, please see 'The Storm Cone', posted Wednesday 27th December 2016.
Poem posted on Saturday 25th November 2017.
Introduction to 'The Person from Porlock':
At the close of the eighteenth century, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, aged 25, wrote his poem 'Kubla Khan'; it was 54 lines in length. His story about it was that living in a cottage between Linton and Porlock, Devon, with this poem in progress on his work-desk, he had fallen ill, taken an anodyne - two grains of opium - and slipped into a deep sleep in which all the images of Xanadu rose up before him, and on waking he sat down to transcribe the full poem of around 300 lines he had dreamt. Unfortunately he was disturbed by "a person from Porlock on business" who stayed for over an hour ,by which time his dream had faded beyond memory. Hence the brief poem as it exists today, to Coleridge's lasting disappointment.
Stevie Smith's poem casts doubt on the veracity of this account and sees it all from an amusing yet wistful angle:-
Thoughts about the Person from Porlock
Coleridge received the Person from Porlock
And ever after called him a curse,
Then why did he hurry to let him in?
He could have hid in the house.
It was not right of Coleridge in fact it was wrong
(but often we all do wrong).
As the truth is I think he was already stuck
With Kubla Khan.
He was weeping and wailing: I'm finished, finished,
I shall never write another word of it,
When along comes the Person from Porlock
And takes the blame for it.
It was not right, it was wrong,
But often we all do wrong.
May we enquire the name of the Person from Porlock?
Why, Porson, didn't you know?
He lived at the bottom of Porlock Hill.
So had a long way to go.
He wasn't much in the social sense
Though his grandmother was a warlock,
One of the Rutlandshire ones I fancy
And nothing to do with Porlock,.
And he lived at the bottom of the hill as I said
And had a cat named Flo,
And had a cat named Flo.
I long for the Person from Porlock
To bring my thoughts to an end,
I am growing impatient to see him
I think of him as a friend.
Often I look out of the window
Often I run to the gate.
I think, he will come this evening,
I think it is rather late.
I am hungry to be interrupted
For ever and ever amen.
O Person from Porlock come quickly
And bring my thoughts to an end.
(from 'Selected Poems', 1962, Longmans)
For biographical note on Stevie Smith please see 'Valuable' (posted Wed 25.10.17)
Poem posted on Wednesday 22nd November 2017.
'Dio salvi il re', intonano le trombe
da un padiglione erto su palafitte
che aprono il varco al mare quando sale
a distruggere peste
umide di cavalli nella sabbia
(1896 - 1981)
'God save the king', intone the trumpets
from a pavilion built upon stilts
which open the way for the rising tide
to obliterate the damp hoofprints of horses
in the sand along the shore.
Translator: Maurice Rutherford
Eugenio Montale was born In Genoa, Italy, where his father was a merchant, and lived the later part of his life in Milan. He was regarded as the foremost Italian poet of his time and in 1975 was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. In the late 1940s he spent some time in Britain and it is likely that is when this poem was written out of his impression of a visit to Eastbourne, East Sussex, where he paused by the pavilion on the pier. George VI was still on the throne at that time, so Montale would be correct in interpreting the anthem to 'il re' (the king) and not the queen as we know it today. During this period he also wrote 'Vento Sulla Mezzaluna, Edinburgo 1948', translated as 'Wind On The Crescent', (scroll back to Poetry, Sat 8th Oct, 2016).
Poem posted on Saturday 18th November 2017.
under a shower
Fifty years passed,
in a world in
servitude to time.
She was young;
I kissed with my eyes
closed and opened
them on her wrinkles.
'Come,' said death,
choosing her as his
the last dance. And she,
who in life
had done everything
with a bird's grace,
opened her bill now
for the shedding
of one sigh no
heavier than a feather.
R. S. Thomas
(from 'Collected Poems 1945-1990', J.M.Dent, 1993)
Thanks to Susan Benton who, when requesting this poem wrote that it is among her favourites, which share the qualities of "...expressing succinctly with carefully chosen, but no extraneous words, beautiful but simple thoughts." Yes, this certainly can be said of 'A Marriage', and I like the cliff-hanging effect adding power to the poem by a masterly use of caesura holding the sense of the narrative over between lines. A poem to treasure. Both Susan and I and, I dare add, other readers would welcome your own comments.
(For biographical notes on Thomas, please scroll to his poem 'They', posted Sat. 28.10.17.)
Poem posted on Wednesday 15th November 2017.
Meeting At Night
The grey sea and the long black land;
And the yellow half-moon large and low;
And the startled little waves that leap
In fiery ringlets from their sleep,
As I gain the cove with pushing prow,
And quench its speed i' the slushy sand.
Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach;
Three fields to cross till a farm appears;
A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch
And blue spurt of a lighted match,
And a voice less loud thro' its joys and fears,
Than the two hearts beating each to each.
Robert Browning was born in Camberwell, London on 7th May 1812 and died at his home in Venice, Italy on 12th September 1889. He was educated at University College, London. His poem 'Meeting at Night' was first published in his 'Dramatic Romances and Lyrics' together with, among others, an even shorter complementary poem 'Parting at Morning'. Written in 1845, they were being worked on during Browning's courtship of Elizabeth Barrett, their romantic association became a highlight in the gossip of the literary classes in Britain, and the poem we post today was considered the most sensual romantic poem of the times. I like the way suspense increases as we realize and become party to the thrill of doing a daring 'naughty' when we hear the scratch/and see the blue spurt of a lighted match. An exciting and cleverly crafted poem.
Browning is buried in Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey, London.
You might like to search for 'Parting at Morning' and share your surprise with us? That would be nice.
Poem posted on Saturday 11th November 2017.
The Quiet Men
They boast, of deeds performed the night before,
of conquests in dark alleys of their minds,
of gallons drunk and women satisfied,
erecting pedestals and laying claims
on which to build their reputations high
in upmanship and camaraderie.
By day they learn the drills and skills of war,
defile dead ground, find trees with bushy tops
as aids to indication; march at ease,
sing ribaldry and urinate the lanes,
but never ask the question burning deep
beyond the chilling sweat, preceding sleep.
These were the quiet men before they came -
from homes like yours and mine one may suppose -
and on this battle-eve some say their prayers,
and most are virgins if the truth be told;
tomorrow there'll be taller tales to tell
and quieter men for telling them as well.
('And Saturday is Christmas', Shoestring Press, 2011)
On a lighter note: 'And Saturday is Christmas' (Poetry) and 'Marshalled Musings' (Prose) have both been reprinted and are again available from Shoestring Press.
Poem posted on Wednesday 8th November 2017.
'Good-morning; good-morning!' the general said
When we met him last week on the way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of 'em dead,
And we're cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
'He's a cheery old card,' grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.
But he did for them both by his plan of attack.
So much has been written about Siegfried Sassoon and I won't repeat or add to it here, other than to say that he and Wilfred Owen were among those committed to military psychiatric hospitals mentioned in my notes to Isaac Rosenberg's poem 'Returning, We Hear the Larks'. Their names, and that of Ivor Gurney, were also among the 16 war poets later to be honoured in stone in Westminster Abbey.
Poem posted on Saturday 4th November 2017.
Returning, We Hear the Larks
Sombre the night is.
And though we have our lives, we know
What sinister threat lies there.
Dragging these anguished limbs, we only know
This poison-blasted track opens on our camp -
On a little safe sleep.
But hark! - joy - strange joy.
Lo! heights of night ringing with unseen larks.
Music showering our upturned list'ning faces.
Death could drop from the dark
As easily as song -
But song only dropped,
Like a blind man's dreams on the sand
By dangerous tides,
Like a girl's dark hair for she dreams no ruin lies there,
Or her kisses where a serpent hides.
Isaac Rosenberg was born in Bristol on 25th November 1890 to Jewish Lithuanian immigrants to Britain; the family later moved to Stepney, London. After doing well at school, Isaac, with interests in poetry and visual arts, started an apprenticeship with Fleet Street engraver Carl Hentschel and attended evening classes at Birkbeck College, but after finding financial assistance, left the apprenticeship to study at the School of Fine Art, University College, London.
At some stage Rosenburg was afflicted by chronic bronchitis and, having a sister living in South Africa, went in 1914 to join her, hoping the warmer climate would suit him better. This move seems to have been effective and, feeling better, he returned to Britain in March 1915 looking to find employment as an artist. Unsuccessful, and with Britain at war, he enlisted in the army, allotting half his pay home to his mother. He is recorded as saying, "I never joined the army for patriotic reasons. Nothing can justify war. I suppose we just all fight to get the trouble over." I imagine that most service volunteers would include this sentiment, together with a handful of other fears - because fears they were - troubling the volunteering population, if they analysed their motives.
Rosenberg's active service experiences in France would have been generally in line with what history has recorded as the norm under the Top Brass's hokey cokey, 'in- out, in-out' front line manning policy of 'Test 'em To Destruction', which saw so many 'failures' incarcerated in UK mental hospitals, where I doubt they met any of their Generals. Rosenberg along with a number of his unit, the King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, was killed at Fampoux, north-east of Arras on 1st April, 1918.
What remains of this important poet? He is among the 16 war poets whose names are engraved on a memorial stone in Westminster Abbey. But I think he would have placed the visual arts above the poems, and might have applauded, and been proud of the hanging of his self-portraits which can be viewed in the National Gallery, London.
Poem posted on Wednesday 1st November 2017.
I take their hands,
Hard hands. There is no love
For such, only a willed
Gentleness. Negligible men
From the village, from the small
Holdings, they bring their grief
Sullenly to my back door,
And are speechless. Seeing them
In the wind with the light's
Halo, watching their eyes
Blur, I know the reason
They cry, their worsting
By one whom they will fight.
Daily the sky mirrors
The water, the water the
Sky. Daily I take their side
In their quarrel, calling their faults
Mine. How do I serve so
This being they have shut out
Of their houses, their thoughts, their lives?
R. S. Thomas
Ronald Stuart Thomas was born on 29th March 1913 in Cardiff and died on 25th September 2000 in Pentrefelin near Criccieth, Wales. He read Latin at Bangor University before being trained and ordained as a priest in The Church In Wales, then worked as a priest until his retirement, living on a miserably small income. Married, a son recalls childhood in an unheated house where the winter could record freezing temperatures. It seems that Thomas senior accepted willingly these spartan conditions and at one stage banned further use of the family's only luxury, the vacuum cleaner, because it was too noisy.
R.S. Thomas did not start to learn his native language until the age of 30, by then too late to change from writing in English. More's the pity. However,he went on to write over 1,500 poems, many I've never read and others I shouldn't want to be without, one of which is 'They'. What I love about these poems written by a practising priest is the voice of absolute honesty in which he continues to question his own faith in a god as difficult to get close to as was he himself. But his love, like that for his parishioners, is unfailing.
When in 1955 Thomas's fourth book, 'Song At The Year's Turning' was published, it carried this endorsement from John Betjeman: "The name which has the honour to introduce this fine poet to a wider audience will be forgotten long before that of R.S. Thomas."
Well, I can't forecast for the world, but Thomas's name will be remembered again on this website. If you have a favourite of his, you could be the one to flag it up for us.
Poem posted on Sunday 29th October.
Before coming to today's poem, we apologise for the recent silence, on the 'Readings' page, of the first three poems, Love Story, The Gazebo and Bacalao, which we are pleased to say are all now available to stream again. Still on 'Readings', new visitors to this website might like to know that by scrolling down to the launch readings, recordings by John Alderton and Pauline Collins are available to enjoy.
(After reading two paragraphs in a newspaper)
All these illegitimate babies...
Oh, girls, girls,
Silly little cheap things,
Why do you not put some value on yourselves,
Learn to say, No?
Did nobody teach you?
Nobody teaches anybody to say No nowadays,
People should teach people to say No.
O poor panther,
oh you poor black animal,
At large for a few moments in a school for young children in Paris,
Now in your cage again,
How your great eyes bulge with bewilderment,
There is something there that accuses us,
In your angry and innocent eyes,
Something that says:
I am too valuable to be kept in a cage.
Oh these illegitimate babies!
Oh girls, girls,
Silly little valuable things,
You should have said, No, I am valuable,
And again, It is because I am valuable
I say, No.
Girls, you are valuable,
And you, Panther, you are valuable,
But the girls say: I shall be alone
If I say 'I am valuable', and other people do not say it of me,
I shall be alone, there is no comfort there.
No, it is not comforting but it is valuable,
And if everybody says it in the end
It will be comforting. And for the panther too,
If verybody says he is valuable
It will be comforting for him.
Stevie Smith has said that her love of drawing is sometimes also the inspiration for a poem: at other times she would be moved to respond poetically to whatever she's recently been reading. Her poem 'Valuable' is a good example of the latter, resulting in a clever interplay of two disparate subjects, its message brought into ever-sharpening focus through the repetitive lens of the poem's title word. We are left in no doubt of the poet's abhorrence of the causes in these two human failings.
Facts concerning Stevie Smith and me you didn't need to know: Stevie was born at 34 De-la-Pole Avenue, Hull; Stevie's father deserted his family and ran away to sea. I was born at number 100 in nextdoor Albert Avenue, Hull 20 years later; my maternal grandfather deserted his family and ran away to sea. Make of this what you will, but I'd like to think they'd heard a whisper about the advent of I.T., of mobile, inescapable, interminable 'news' broadcasting, and they were bunking off from all the forthcoming Brexit brouhaha. But then we each have our own hoard of history we're unable to rewrite - don't we?
Poem posted on Wednesday 25th October 2017.
The Constant Lover
Out upon it! I have lov'd
Three whole days together;
And I am like to love three more,
If it prove fair weather.
Time shall moult away his wings,
Ere he shall discover
In the whole wide world again
Such a constant lover.
But the spite on't is, no praise
Is due at all to me:
Love with me had made no stays,
Had it any been but she.
Had it any been but she,
And that very face,
There had been at least ere this
A dozen dozen in her place.
(1609 - after May 1641)
Sir John Suckling was one of the 17th century 'Cavalier Poets' (much favoured by King Charles 1st and Queen Henrietta Maria) who seems to have packed a lot into his short life including taking part in a failed plot to free Thomas Wentworth 1st Earl of Stafford from the Tower of London, then fleeing to France in a hurry where, deprived of any income and fearing poverty, he is said to have committed suicide by poison, sometime after May, 1641. He was buried in a Protestant Cemetery in Paris. He might have bequeathed pleasure to more people by his invention of the board/card game Cribbage than by his poetry. Cribbage, or 'Crib', gave birth to the phrases 'level pegging' and 'pegging out'.
But back to his poem, which gives me no clue as to where it fits into his life or, if not his own, the life of the poem's speaker yet which when first I read it, without any biographical knowledge, left me thinking that here was much more to ponder beyond the interpretation of an old style use of the English language. Forget the biography: leave me the poem to work on - and, of course, the good fortune to get on 'level pegging' with the accepted meaning of constancy.
Poem posted on Saturday 21st October 2017.
States of Play
Humber Street Gallery, July 2017
We move up close
to blow gently
on paper discs -
lemon pink mauve
blue lights blush then
fade. More breaths on
We watch as they
like this: whispered
make it glow, the
behind the mesh
of our daily
lives waiting for
that one small sigh.
Sue Wilsea, writer, poet and one half of the poetry and performance duo, 'The Hull to Scarborough Line', (Felix Hodcroft is the Scarborough half), lived in Hull for many years before crossing the Humber to Lincolnshire. Some time ago Sue and Felix wrote and performed a play built around my poetry, with the startling title, 'The Remarkable Mr Rutherford', performances of which I have been doubly privileged to attend in both Hull and Scarborough. We all three became friends and, albeit spasmodically, still keep in touch. Sue and I, as émigrés from Hull, sometimes share 'home thoughts', recalling missed neighbours and experiences. When I learned of Sue's visit to one of Hull's City of Culture 2017 events about which she had been moved to write a poem, I asked if I might share it with readers of this website, and was pleased when she consented. She says, "I wrote the poem because we had visited the exhibition with some friends from Hull, ex neighbours...when our kids were young...and when we get together the years fall away and it never takes long before we're back where we were. So the blowing on the lights seemed a good metaphor."
I love the juxtaposition of reality and imagination in this poem, and the tender tones in which both are delicately expressed. This surely is what the exhibition was aiming for: art out of art.
p.s. I hear that 'The Hull to Scarborough Line' will be in action again at Ye Olde Black Boy, High Street, in Hull's old town, on Wednesday 15th, November 2017.
Poem posted on Wednesday 18th October 2017.
Intro to 'A une petite chienne':
On a recent visit to France I was fortunate to spend a whole glorious, long weekend as invited guest in the home of Stella and Philip Buckle. During my stay, when we weren't attending a most memorable wedding ceremony, we had many absorbing conversations on more than as many subjects of which, inevitably, poetry was one. Stella told me about the local poetry group whose members, both French and British, meet monthly to read and discuss poems in either language. Stella speaks fluent French and is able to compose her lines, thinking in French and rhyming in French. I was fascinated. How could I resist asking her for a poem for this website? I couldn't, and I'm delighted now to share her poem with you, together with an English version in which Stella has not attempted to emulate the rhythms and rhymes of the original French, preferring to remain true to the essential narrative. I am sure that she would welcome your responses to her work, and so should I, and I'd love to receive poems from other French readers and writers of French.
Our warmest thanks go to Stella Buckle for this poem:-
A une petite chienne
Vieille dame du monde des chiennes
Souvent endormi..pas la mienne
Lève sa tête
Pour regarder 'qui viennent?'
Comme un ours cabossé,
Elle remue sa queue
Et demande une promenade
Elle cherche sa laisse
Elle l'a trouve à vitesse
Moi, innocent, naïve
Je regarde avec tendresse!
La porte est fermé
Elle tire la laisse
Ce n'est pas l'intention
de me blesse
Mais je suis traîne par terre
Le talons de mes chaussures
Glissent sur les pavés
Mouillé et dur!
Balancé encore nous continuons
Quelques minutes, cette petite bête
Elle sent l'arôme d'un autre chien
Pas assez loin
Et puis elle répète
Une fois, deux fois, trois
J'attends sans résistance
Immobile, comme du bois
Au monde de Coco
Elle est la reine
Tous qu'elle voit est la sienne
Sans cérémonie c'est fini la promenade
Elle tourne sa tête dépenaillée sans regarde
À moi, toujours en retard
J'ai une problème de balance, j'ai peur de tomber
Mais à sa direction je dois succomber
Des montagnes russes elle est conductrice
Nous suivons chaque un toujours ses caprices.
Et quand nous retournons, fatigue, chez elle
Comme une chienne bien âgée évident réelle
Et moi j'ai besoin d'un remontant
Et le prochain fois sans talons incapacitant
Stella Buckle, 2017
To a little lady dog!
Old lady of the world of dogs
Often asleep...not mine
Lifts her head
To see who's coming
Like a battered teddy bear
See her facade
She wags her tail
And asks for a walk
She looks for her lead
She finds it quickly
Me, innocent, naive
I look at her tenderly.
The door shut, she pulls on the lead
It's not her intention to harm me
But I am dragged across the ground
The heels of my shoes
Slide on the damp, hard cobbles!
Balanced once more, we continue
For several minutes, this little beast.
She scents the odour of another dog not far away
And suddenly she stops..
And this she repeats not once, twice but three times.
And I wait patiently. Immobile, wooden
In the world of dogs she feels she is queen
All she surveys is hers!
Without ceremony the walk is over,
She turns her ragged head without regard
For me, always a bit behind..
I have a problem of balance, I feel I might trip over
But to her direction, I must succumb
She is the driver of this roller coaster
We must follow her caprices.
And when we return, tired, back home
Like an old dog she at last behaves
And me, I need a stiff drink
Note to self
Next time ..don't wear high heels!
Stella Buckle, 2017
Poem posted on Saturday 14th October 2017.
We Don't Know How To Say Goodbye
We don't know how to say goodbye -
We keep wandering arm in arm.
Twilight has begun to fall,
You are pensive and I keep still.
Let's go into a church - we will watch
A funeral, christening, a marriage service,
Without looking at each other, we will leave...
What's wrong with us?
Or let's sit on the trampled snow
Of the graveyard, sighing lightly,
And with your walking stick you'll outline palaces
Where we will be together always.
(1889 - 1966)
From 'Selected Poems', translated by Richard McKane, Bloodaxe Books, 2006.
Anna Akhmatova, Russian modernist poet born in Odessa is noted for her poem 'Requiem', a major work on the tragic theme of Stalinist terror, which placed her outside the contemporary mainstream. But this translation is of a poem concerned with human love which has attracted the attention of poets down the ages, an emotion most readers will immediately recognise as 'their own'. It certainly takes me back to my own courtship, as it was then called, and still further to a song written by Frank Loesser and sung by Hoagy Carmichael and Ella Logan around 1938:
'Two Sleepy People'
Here we are, out of cigarettes,
Holding hands and yawning,
See how late it gets,
Two sleepy people by dawn's early light
And too much in love to say good night...
...Two sleepy people with nothing to say,
And too much in love to break away.
Of course, such concerns have been occupying poets across the millennia; at least we know that some five centuries have passed since Shakespeare had Juliet saying to her Romeo:
"Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow,
That I shall say good night till it be morrow."
You might have a favourite poem you have read on this theme, and personal reflections on its importance in your life; if so, do please spend a few moments to share them with us.
Poem posted on Wednesday 11th October 2017.
(i.m. Vernon Scannell)
A friend's gift of your work brings this response
which must be brief because it's getting late,
as I'll be soon and, sadly, you are now.
Dear Vernon, your Last Post reminds me, once,
at Lumb Bank circa nineteen-eightyeight
we met, when I had hopes you'd teach me how
to fine a poem from a grain of sand.
It doesn't work that way, I should have known
poetic art's not like a tool for hire.
Instead, you showed how best to play the hand
we're dealt in someone else's lines, where tone
and texture help a poem's tempo fire
imagination, captivate the mind.
Maestro, these poems bring to me a kind
of voice-mail sent from Coldenside again
where you declined to trumpet rhymes of yours
and selflessly espoused a nobler cause
re-living Hardy's 'During Wind and Rain',
but while I hear his rose "ript from the wall",
these pages say you haven't died at all
and, worlds away from hills of Heptonstall,
your voice rings clear, beyond the bugle's call.
Maurice Rutherford, from 'And Saturday is Christmas', Shoestring Press, 2011.
Poem posted on Saturday October 7th 2017.
A Pleasure Shared
What a pleasure it is to receive this request from a very close friend, and to share his chosen poem, and some thoughts about it, with you all:-
Old, Old Song
WHEN the world is young, lad,
And all the trees are green;
And every goose a swan, lad,
And every lass a queen;
Then hey for boot and horse, lad,
And round the world away;
Young blood must have its course, lad,
And every dog his day.
When all the world is old, lad,
And all the trees are brown;
And all the sport is stale, lad,
And all the wheels run down;
Creep home, and take your place there,
The spent and maimed among:
God grant you find one face there,
You loved when all was young.
Charles Kingsley (1819-1875)
From 'The Water Babies'.
'Old, Old Song' is among the favourites of John Alderton who comments upon his choice as follows:-
"The Reverend Charles Kingsley, Social reformer, Professor and lecturer, brave early supporter of Darwin, squirrelled this poem away in 1862, at the end of Chapter Two of his delightful children's story 'The Water Babies'.
Why? This is not for their very young heads. Nor is it even for the heads of those lads in the first verse, still in the exuberance and energy of youth.
It can only be appreciated fully by greyed heads which have been in both countries, and can compare.
It is succinct and easily recognised analogy. A universal truth. Touching and immediate. He called it "The Ould Song". Which hints at a long history, and indeed could easily have been understood in the Thirteenth century, or Third, or at Stonehenge".
- John Alderton
I'm sure readers will join me in thanking John Alderton for sharing this poem and his reflections, and I assure all our readers that their own favourites, with comments, will be equally well received.
Poem posted on Wednesday 4th October 2017.
Now and then in some sound you discover
a different country. Once in a barn
open and empty my guitar jumped
in my hand. Often I went back hunting
what happened, but it was always gone.
When we came down through Canada
playing at stampedes in Chilco, and Babine,
and Charlie Lake, there came a time - the drum
and the weather just so. But in Peace River
it changed and never got that way again.
But there's a country beyond all of those, to be
found and then lost. You cross borders toward home,
smuggling a whole state legally, glancing
at the wind or the patrol. They want you
to have it. They say, 'Song?' and they let it come.
('Contemporary American Poetry', Penguin Books)
How wonderful for the survival of the human spirit, that not only the border lines of British Columbia but also those separating provinces throughout Canada, or dividing the states of America; not even Great Walls the world over, or the vast oceans are able to deter the passage of music. How inspiriting to remember that music requires no passport, visa or green card, and is its own letter of introduction: 'They Say', indeed, says it all.
Poem posted on Saturday 30th September 2017.
Autumn Testament (1)
As I come down the mountain from Toro Poutini's house
My feet are sore, being bare, on the sharp stones
And that is a suitable penance. The dust of the pa road
Is cool, though, and I can see
The axe of the moon shift down behind the trees
Very slowly. The red light from the windows
Of the church has a ghostly look, and in
This place ghosts are real. The bees are humming
In moonlight in their old hive above the church door
Where I go in to kneel, and come out to make my way
Uphill past a startled horse who plunges in the
Above the nunnery. Now there are one or two
Of the tribe back in the big house - What would you
have me do,
King Jesus? Your games with me have turned me into
James K. Baxter
(1926 - 1972)
From 'Selected Poems', Carcanet Press Ltd, 2010.
James Keir Baxter was born in Dunedin, New Zealand. The second of his two given names was an expression of his father's respect for Keir Hardie, the founder of the British Labour Party. Baxter became a prolific writer and traveller, of whose poetry the critic and publisher Michael Schmidt has written "...one of the most precocious poets of the century whose neglect outside of New Zealand is baffling", and commenting on Baxter's 'Prelude NZ', Schmidt said that he detected "an amalgam of Hopkins, Dylan Thomas and native atavisms.
Poem posted on Wednesday 27th September 2017.
It is the football season once more
And the back pages of the Sunday papers
Again show the blurred anguish of goalkeepers.
In Maida Vale, Golders Green and Hampstead
Lamps ripen early in the surprising dusk;
They are furred like stale rinds with a fuzz of mist.
The pavements of Kensington are greasy;
The wind smells of burnt porridge in Bayswater
And the leaves are mushed to silence in the gutter.
The big hotel like an anchored liner
Rides near the park; lit windows hammer the sky.
Like the slow swish of surf the tyres of taxis sigh.
On Ealing Broadway the cinema glows
Warm behind glass while mellow the church clock chimes
As the waiting girls stir in their delicate chains.
Their eyes are polished by the winds,
But the gleam is dumb, empty of joy or anger.
Though the lovers are long in coming the girls still linger.
We are nearing the end of the year.
Under the sombre sleeve the blood ticks faster
And in the dark car of Autumn quick voices whisper.
It is a time of year that's to my taste,
Full of spiced rumours, sharp and velutinous flavours,
Dim with the mist that softens the cruel surfaces,
Makes mirrors vague. It is the mist that I most favour.
(1922 - 2007)
Vernon Scannell, born John Vernon Bain in Spilsby, Lincolnshire, left his local school at age 14 and found work as a junior clerk in an insurance office, having developed the unlikely twin interests of Boxing and Literature. It wasn't long before WW2 saw him enlisting in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders from where he was eventually transferred to the Gordon Highlanders. He had a chequered military career including action at El Alamein and at Gabes Gap, North Africa; desertion; prison in Alexandria, suspended sentence freeing him to take part in the D-Day landings. His war was cut short when he was shot in both legs during the battle for Caen. He went AWOL again without waiting for demobilisation when back in the UK and lived as a civilian until found, returned to the Military, court martialled and so on; twists and turns too difficult for biographers accurately to keep tabs on.
In civilian life, while still 'on the run', he studied literature under the lecturer Bonamy Dobrée, won prizes boxing for the university, became an English teacher, award winning poet and author, at some stage being run to earth by the Military Police, jailed and after psychiatric tests freed to write poetry. Phew!
I of course knew none of this background information when I turned up at Lumb Bank, Heptonstall, West Yorkshire, to a 1980s poetry lovers' course under Scannell's joint tutelage with the young Andrew Motion, during which we shared nothing but good manners and enthusiasm for the subject; nothing, that is, except perhaps a convivial glass or two.
Scannell died at his home in Otley, West Yorkshire after a lengthy illness. We had shared our year of birth. I wrote some lines in memory of the poet in him; they will be reproduced here in a future posting.
Poem posted on Saturday 23rd September 2017.
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, -
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
(1795 - 1821)
John Keats, one of the so-called Romantic Poets which included Byron and Shelley, was born in Moorgate, London, where his father Thomas Keats worked as hostler in the stables of the Swan and Hoop inn, advancing to become the inn manager; it was here that the family of four children were brought up. When John was only eight, his father died and the children were sent to live with grandparents in Edmonton. John, a bright, active lad was enrolled at a boarding school named Clarke's and here he developed his interest in Classics and History. Keats started to publish poetry only about four years before his death, and during those years his poetry found little favour among literary critics; popularity only came posthumously. He died of tuberculosis at the young age of twenty-five in Rome, where he was buried in the Protestant Cemetery.
'To Autumn', I think, although written in a language and style two hundred years old, is one of the few poems in English of which most people remember - or misremember - the opening line. I feel that no apology is needed for sharing the complete poem, but I shall nevertheless present a more modern picture of Autumn in the next posting.
Poem posted on Wednesday 20th September 2017.
There's a small café off the Avenue
Where Alphonse, that old sinner, used to fix
A five-course dinner up at one and six,
And trust to luck and youth to pull him through.
I can't remember much about the wine
Except that it was ninepence for the quart
Called claret and was nothing of the sort,
Cheap like the rest and like the rest divine.
But Alphonse, I suppose, is long since sped
And Madame's knitting needles rusted through
And even Marguerite, like us she flew
To wait on, waited on by death instead.
Well Alphonse, well Madame, well Marguerite!
They've no more use for us in Wardour Street.
(1886 - 1940)
This sonnet by Wolfe is from 'The Incelestial City' published by Victor Gollancz.
Humbert Wolfe, CB CBE was born in Milan, Italy. His Father, Martin Wolff was of German descent; his mother, Consuela Terraccini, Italian. Moving early in his life to England, he was brought up in Bradford,West Yorkshire and attended Bradford Grammar School and then Wadham College, Oxford, from where he took up a successful career in the Civil Service, firstly at the Board of Trade and afterwards in the Ministry of Labour. Always conscious of his Jewish heritage, he converted to Christianity. Wolfe claimed to be of no political creed, except that it was his general view that money and its possessors should be abolished.
He wrote not only poetry, and among his many works were translations of Heine and others. He became one of the most popular authors of the 1920s; some of his verses were set to music by Gustav Holst.
Humbert Wolfe died on his 55th birthday and is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, London.
Poem posted on Saturday September 16th 2017.
It's going to be a thick night tonight (and the night before was a thick one),
I've just seen the Padre disappearing into 'The Cock' for a quick one.
I don't mind telling you this, old boy, we got the Major drinking -
You probably know the amount of gin he's in the habit of sinking -
And then that new MO, came in, the Jewish one, awful fellow,
And his wife, a nice little bit of stuff, dressed in a flaming yellow.
Looked a pretty warmish piece, old boy - no, have this one with me -
They were both so blind (and so was the Major) that they could hardly see.
She had one of those amazing hats and a kind of silver fox fur
(I wouldn't mind betting several fellows have had a go at her).
She made a bee-line for the Major, bloody funny, old boy,
Asked him a lot about horses and India, you know, terribly coy -
And this MO fellow was mopping it up and at last passed right out
(Some silly fool behind his back put a bottle of gin in his stout).
I've never seen a man go down so quick. Somebody drove him home.
His wife was almost as bad, old boy, said she felt all alone
And nestled up to the Major - it's a great pity you weren't there -
And the Padre was arguing about the order of morning and evening prayer.
Never laughed so much in all my life. We went on drinking till three.
And this bloody woman was doing her best to sit on the Major's knee!
Let's have the blackout boards put up and turn on the other light.
Yes, I think you can count on that, old boy - tonight'll be a thick night.
(1916 - 1995)
From 'The Poetry of War 1939 -45'. ed. Ian Hamilton.
Gavin Buchanan Ewart was born in London and after school there studied at Christ's College, Cambridge, receiving a B.A and an M.A in 1937 and 1942 respectively. He published his first poem at the young age of 17, but WW2 in which he saw active service in the Royal Artillery brought an interruption and he didn't resume publishing poems until as late as 1964. After the war Ewart worked for a while in Publishing and with The British Council; then from 1952 spent the rest of his working life as an Advertising Copywriter.
He seems to have returned to poetry with the poems flowing in full spate, and he went on to produce many collections, quickly becoming a poet much loved for his flamboyant virtuosity and observations on human behaviour, in the course of which his irreverent eroticism led in 1966 to W.H.Smith's banning sales of his book 'The Pleasures of the Flesh' from their shops. (Well done, old boy, have this one on me; the day job obviously taught you a thing or two about how to bump up demand and watch sales go through the ceiling!).
It is not recorded whether or not this banning of the book later played any part in the decision by The Putney Society to commemorate the life of a 'Noted Poet', but above the entrance to Kenilworth Court, Putney, London where Ewart had lived, there is a blue plaque bearing his name.
Poem posted on Wednesday 13th September 2017.
The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd
If all the world and love were young,
And truth in every shepherd's tongue,
These pretty pleasures might me move,
To live with thee, and be thy love.
Time drives the flocks from field to fold,
When Rivers rage, and Rocks grow cold,
And Philomel becometh dumb,
The rest complains of cares to come.
The flowers do fade, and wanton fields,
To wayward winter reckoning yields,
A honey tongue, a heart of gall,
Is fancy's spring, but sorrow's fall.
Thy gowns, thy shoes, thy beds of Roses,
Thy cap, thy kirtle, and thy posies,
Soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten:
In folly ripe, in reason rotten.
Thy belt of straw and Ivy buds,
Thy Coral clasps and Amber studs,
All these in me no means can move,
To come to thee, and be thy love.
But could youth last, and love still breed,
Had joys no date, nor age no need,
Then these delights my mind might move,
To live with thee, and be thy love.
Sir Walter Raleigh
(1554 - 1618)
Walter Raleigh was born into a Devon land-owning family, with all the associated benefits including education and must have come to understand 'carpe diem' early in life during which, although little is known of his childhood and youth, he certainly filled his adult days with a variety of activities. Writer, poet, politician, courtier, spy, explorer, the list seems endless - you wonder what he did in his spare time! Well, he quickly found favour with Queen Elizabeth which must have been a useful asset until the day the queen discovered he had secretly married one of her ladies-in-waiting, Elizabeth Throckmorton, without asking and receiving the Royal permission, and she had the pair marched off to The Tower. Eventually released, the couple left London to live on Raleigh's inherited estate in Sherborne, Dorset. Then after the queen's death, Raleigh was accused of taking part in a plot against King James, arrested and again took up a rent-free residency in The Tower from where, in 1616, he was released specifically to head an expedition, his second, in search of gold in El Dorado. They don't seem to have 'struck it rich', but some of his men came upon a Spanish outpost, entered, plundered and trashed it, which of course didn't go down well when the news hit Spain. So the Spaniards had to be appeased. This was where Raleigh's head became sacrificed to the swung axe.
To turn from this bloody, inhuman ending, I'd like to mention two of the more pleasant legacies left to us. The first is the compelling painting of 'The Boyhood of Raleigh' by John Everett Milais (1871), of which many framed prints were made and one of them hung in the bedroom in which I was suffered as the minor shareholder by my elder brother (Bless you, Dear Ken!) and his trouserpress.
Later as an adult in the 1980s, I heard an hilarious sketch broadcast on CBS by Bob Newhart, of an imagined telephone conversation between 'nutty Walter' phoning the head of the West Indies Company in England to tell about his wonderful finds in the new world, and the amazement and humorous reactions to Raleigh's description of the use of leaves from a plant called tobacco must surely be a story-telling classic. You can hear or read it now on the net.
Poem posted on Saturday 9th September 2017.
Even a free-ranging and far-reaching website sometimes is likely to touch its hat in the direction of Convention. This week we offer the poetic equivalent of the operatic Cav'n'Pag, in trotting out the old well rehearsed and popular double-act of Marlowe and Raleigh; the curtain raises to Marlowe:
The Passionate Shepherd to His Love
Come live with me, and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That hills and valleys, dales and fields,
And all the craggy mountains yields.
There we will sit upon the rocks,
Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks
By shallow rivers, to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.
And I will make thee beds of roses
With a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers and a kirtle
Embroider'd all with leaves of myrtle.
A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull,
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold;
A belt of straw and ivy buds,
With coral clasps and amber studs,
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.
The shepherd swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May-morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Come live with me, and be my love.
(1564 - 1593)
Christopher (Kit) Marlowe was christened in Canterbury on 26th February 1564; there is no record of his birth, which is assumed to have been a couple of days earlier. He soon went on to make his name as one of the foremost poets of his time; the early Shakespeare, born the same year, was known to have been influenced by Marlowe's writing. In the troubled climate of religious conflict in England, Marlowe was arrested in May 1593 on a charge of blasphemy contained in his work, and ordered to attend court on a stated date. However, the court did not sit on that day, so he was summoned to appear daily until it did sit. During this postponement, Marlowe was mysteriously attacked and stabbed to death, aged not yet thirty. No reason is given for the assault.
'The Passionate Shepherd' earned a response from Walter Raleigh - see next posting.
Poem posted on Wednesday 6th September 2017.
If Life's a Lousy Picture, Why Not Leave Before the End
One night we'll find that deserted kinema
The torches extinguished
The cornish ripples locked away in the safe
The tornoff tickets chucked
In the tornoff shotbin
The projectionist gone home to his nightmare
that film will still be running
(the one about the sunset)
& we'll find two horses
tethered in the front stalls
& we'll mount
& we'll ride off
Poem posted on Saturday 2nd September 2017.
'Your father's gone,' my bald headmaster said.
His shiny dome and brown tobacco jar
Splintered at once in tears. It wasn't grief.
I cried for knowledge which was bitterer
Than my grief. For there and then I knew
That grief has uses - that a father dead
Could bind the bully's fist a week or two;
And then I cried for shame, then for relief.
I was a month past ten when I learnt this:
I still remember how the noise was stilled
In school-assembly when my grief came in.
Some goldfish in a bowl quietly sculled
Around their shining prison on its shelf.
They were indifferent. All the other eyes
Were turned towards me. Somewhere in myself
Pride like a goldfish flashed a sudden fin.
(From 'A tropical Childhood and Other Poems', OUP 1961.
Edward Lucie-Smith, English writer, poet, art critic, curator and broadcaster, was born in 1933 at Kingston, Jamaica, moving to UK in 1946. Educated in Canterbury and Paris, he read History at Merton, Oxford. He has published more than a hundred books covering an extensive variety of subjects, among the latest a collection of 32 poems, 'Making for the Exit'; at my age, an intriguing title.
Poem posted on Wednesday 30th August 2017.
I wakened on my hot, hard bed,
Upon the pillow lay my head;
Beneath the pillow I could hear
My little watch was ticking clear.
I thought the throbbing of it went
Like my continual discontent;
I thought it said in every tick:
I am so sick, so sick, so sick;
O Death, come quick, come quick, come quick,
Come quick, come quick, come quick, come quick.
(1886 - 1960)
Frances Crofts Cornford's poem 'The Watch' was published in her Collected Poems, (Barrie and Jenkins Ltd) and is probably less widely known than her 'To a Fat Lady seen from the Train'. I don't know at what stage of her life it was written, nor can I picture its provenance against the background of an active Cambridge family life, so to what extent it may be autobiographical, I have no idea. Frances was a granddaughter of Charles Darwin; this makes her a member of the talented Darwin-Wedgwood family. An older half-brother was the same Bernard Darwin whose work as a golf writer I used to enjoy so much.
For me, the charm of this short poem is, as so often, its unanswered questions and the seemingly endless seconds it leaves ticking away in the mind towards Death. But towards whose death?
Poem posted on Saturday 26th August 2017.
The Old Couple
The old couple in the brand-new bungalow,
Drugged with the milk of municpal kindness,
Fumble their way to bed. Oldness at odds
With newness,they nag each other to show
Nothing is altered, despite the strangeness
Of being divorced in sleep by twin-beds,
Side by side like the Departed, above them
The grass-green of candlewick bedspreads.
In a dead neighbourhood, where it is rare
For hooligans to shout or dogs to bark,
A footfall in the quiet air is crisper
Than home-made bread; and the budgerigar
Bats an eyelid, as sensitive to disturbance
As a distant needle is to an earthquake
In the Great Deep, then balances in sleep.
It is silence keeps the old couple awake.
Too old for loving now, but not for love,
The old couple lie, several feet apart,
Their chesty breathing like a muted duet
On wind instruments, trying to think of
Things to hang on to, such as the tinkle
That a budgerigar makes when it shifts
Its feather weight from one leg to another,
The way, on windy nights, linoleum lifts.
F. Pratt Green
(1903 - 2000)
The Reverend Fred Pratt Green, CBE, born in Roby, Lancashire, England, was a poet, playwright and also author of many hymns, a lot of which are gathered in the Methodist Hymnal, 'Singing The Faith'. He is recorded as having averred that hymn singing "is such a dangerous activity...you get this glow which you can mistake for religious experience". OK, this may very well be so, but judging by the popularity of the BBC Sunday programme 'Songs of Praise' in a land where only a minority are regular church-goers, I think many might answer, "Well, whatever floats your boat", and walk away whistling a hymn the words of which they've never considered.
But back to the poem, which was published in Pratt Green's 'New Poems', (Hutchinson, 1965). For me its great strength comes from a mind given to a life's ministering to 'the common crowd', a man of intelligence and warmth for all humanity; a man who, like Leigh Hunt's Abou Ben Adhem, would be happy for his name to be written as "...one that loves his fellow-men".
Who could wish for more?
Poem posted on Wednesday 23rd August 2017.
Tutto ho perduto
Tutto ho perduto dell'infanzia
E non potrò mai più
Smemorami in un grido.
L'infanzia ho sotterrato
Nel fondo delle notti
E ora spada invisibile,
Mi separa da tutto.
Di me rammmento che esultravo amandoti,
Ed eccomi perduto
In infinito delle notti.
Disperazione che incessante aumenta
La vita non mi è più,
Arrestata in fondo della gola,
Che un roccia di gridi.
(1888 - 1970)
I have lost everything of childhood
And I shall never again be able
To lose memory in a cry.
I have buried childhood
In the depth of nights
And now, by an invisible sword,
I am separated from it all.
I recall the delight of having loved you,
And here I am, lost
In an infinity of nights.
Hopelessness ever deepening,
Life is now no more for me
Than a rock of sobs
Stuck in my throat.
Translator: Maurice Rutherford
Giuseppe Ungaretti, whose parents came from Lucca in Tuscany, Italy, was born in Alexandria, Egypt, where his father was engaged in the excavation and development of the Suez canal. Modernist poet, critic, academic and essayist, Ungaretti was winner of the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in its inaugural year of 1970.
During WW2 Ungaretti left Egypt for Italy and was received with great honours, but after Mussolini's downfall he was stripped of these accolades because of his fascist sympathies. Later in his life he developed bronchopneumonia, received treatment in New York City, but died whilst still under medical supervision. He is buried in Campo Verona, Rome.
I have posted poetry in translation previously, and hope to do so again, and in the absence of requested foreign language favourites, my best chance is in Italian, a language I love to hear and grapple with. In my youthful, angling days, I would throw cloud-bait and a few tempters upstream in the attempt to draw fish to my chosen swim. I'd like to find an equally successful way to attract English-speaking Italians or Italian-proficient Brits to this online swim by which I sit and hope. I don't seek dedicated tuition, but I'd be so grateful to feel a firm, frank, guiding hand on my shoulder, correcting me where I stumble wilfully on. May that hand please be yours.
Poem posted on Saturday 19th August 2017.
Worming at Short Beach
Short Beach, reaching
almost to the horizon, successions
of sandbars lay bared
to the low tide, the furthest,
toward which I walked
over the wormgrounds,
toward which I waded
through shallow sluices of channel,
almost indistinct, and now blurred,
a small island of the mind
I've tried to touch,
define, and hold.
But I remember, as gulls worked
the water's edge, ripped
hermits from houses of shell
or in my wake split
the razors I threw aside,
I remember, my back against
the sun's blaze, worming that far bar,
forking close to clumps of sawgrass,
turning the wet sand over,
breaking the worms' domains
open to the dark sheen
of my shadow.
My fork rasped against
the shells of softclams
that sprayed small geysers
as I dug, and the wind
was a thin whisper of scythes
over the waves. And now,
all this from a long time ago
is almost lost
and goes nowhere, except deeper,
year by year. But this was the way
when I worked that far bar,
the light fell: the sandworms
were blood-red in my shadow
as I forked them
into my shadow.
(Vanguard Publishers, New York, USA)
This beautifully composed and presented poem by Long Island poet William Heyen captures - as far as it can be captured - the almost lunar working of memory, interweaving visions of the past with what remains of them in the here and now. 'Worming at Short Beach' takes my memory back half a century to a not dissimilar coastal scene far from Connecticut, USA, to the Lincolnshire side of the Humber, England, and to the Sundays spent cockle-picking there, where the shapes of sandbanks and the course of runnels were never two tides alike, the sandscape mirroring memory itself, the mirror distorting, like those which sometimes surprise us in seaside amusement arcades.
Poem posted on Wednesday 17th August 2017.
Stick a pony in me pocket,
I'll fetch the suitcase from the van,
Cos if you want the best 'uns
But you don't ask questions
Then brother, I'm your man.
Where it all comes from is a mystery,
It's like the changin' of the seasons
And the tides of the sea.
But here's the one that's drivin' me berserk -
Why do only fools and horses work?
We've got some half price cracked ice and miles and miles of carpet tiles,
TVs, deep freeze and David Bowie LPs,
Ball games, gold chains, whatsnames, picture frames and leather goods,
And Trevor Francis track suits from a mush in Shepherds Bush,
Bush, bush, bush, bush, bush, bush, bush...
No Income Tax, no V.A.T.,
No money back, no guarantee,
Black or white, rich or poor.
We'll cut prices at a stroke...
God bless Hooky Street,
Viva Hooky Street,
Long live Hooky Street,
C'est magnifique, Hooky Street,
Magnifique, Hooky Street,
John Sullivan, 1981, 'Only Fools and Horses', BBC TV series.
If you're now imagining the dear old Reliant Robin three-wheeler, you're in the company of millions who remember the vehicle from their own experience or through the TV screen. But although the Robin comes immediately to the mind, it was in fact a Reliant Regal Supervan that the Trotter brothers drove around Hooky Street. For visitors from abroad not familiar with London's Cockney slang, the 'pony' of the lyric's first line is their way of saying £25 (a 'monkey' would mean £500). Nobody has yet claimed the prize for explaining why!
Poem posted on Saturday 12th August 2017.
As a boy with a richness of needs I wandered
As a boy with a richness of needs I wandered
In car parks and streets, epicure of Lagondas,
Minervas, Invictas, and Hispano Suizas;
And I sampled as roughage and amusing sauce
Little Rovers and Rileys, and the occasional funny
Trojan with chain drive, and the Morris Cowleys
With their modest bonnets, sedate Fiat
Of the nineteen-twenties, and the Alvis, middle-brow
Between the raffish sports car and the family bus.
I was tempted by aircraft too, sniffing
Over The Aeroplane and Flight - those kites,
They seem today, knocked up in a back yard
By young and oily artists who painted with rivets:
Westland Wapiti, Bristol Bulldog, and the great
De Havilland Hercules, invading the desert
And pulsing within its sleep like a troubling nerve;
And surely, I think, as I remember those feasts,
They were days of excitement and lavish surprise?
Where is the tantalizing richness and hazard
Of assertive styling, of crazy rigs,
Now that a car is unremarkably one of a million,
And an aeroplane is a tubular schedule? I wander
Still in the car parks, but now uneasily,
Thinking that engineering is a sort of evolution -
Out of the fittest come the many merely fit;
And I wonder if I am wrong, or the world, whose aspect
Is nowhere strange, but is nowhere home.
(1914 - 1971)
Clifford Henry Dyment FRSL was born in Alfreton, Derbyshire, moving in early childhood to Caerleon-on-Usk on the northern outskirts of the city of Newport, Wales. Poet, literary editor and journalist, in WW2 he was called upon to make films for the British government. His poetry is generally known for dealing with countryside topics, so it was rather a surprise to read of his wanderings in city car parks, but such names as Lagonda and Hispano Suiza, marques I haven't heard of since childhood cigarette card collecting days, caught my attention. Beautifully styled sleek cars - as was the Ferrari whose death was lamented by George MacBeth in his poem posted here back on 2nd November 2016 - desirable creations I only ever saw on the fag cards. In those days in our avenue only two of the neighbours owned a car; one a 'modern' Ford 8, and the other a Morris something-or-other, maybe Cowley, built like an upright pianoforte with what they called a Dickie Seat behind the pianist for the sheet-music turner who'd best wear a scarf and a hat with chinstrap.
I think Dyment describes and sums up the evolution extremely well.
'As a boy with a richness of needs I wandered' was published in 'Collected Poems' by J.M.Dent & Sons Ltd.
Of course,it isn't only these desirable unaffordable dream cars that find a parking space in the motorists' love and lore; even from the bargain basement there sometimes emerges a certain assemblage of ugliness which, seen through the rheumy eyes of an ageing populace, becomes beautiful enough to bring tears of nostalgic joy - or of laughter. One such old banger will be remembered in our next posting.
Poem posted on Wednesday 9th August 2017.
Hay for the Horses
He had driven half night
From far down San Joaquin
Through Mariposa, up the
Dangerous Mountain roads,
And pulled in at eight a.m.
With his big truckload of hay behind the barn.
With winch and ropes and hooks
We stacked the bales up clean
To splintery redwood rafters
High in the dark, flecks of alfalfa
Whirling through shingle-cracks of light,
Itch of haydust in the sweaty shirt and shoes.
At lunchtime under Black oak
Out in the hot corral
- The old mare nosing lunchpails,
Grasshoppers crackling in the weeds -
"I'm sixty-eight" he said,
"I first bucked hay when I was seventeen.
I thought that day I started,
I sure would hate to do this all my life.
And dammit that's just what
I've gone and done."
(From 'Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems', North Point Press, 1958)
Gary Snyder, born in San Francisco, 1930, is an American man of letters, widely published travel writer; among his awards, the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, 1985. There are rich seams to be mined among scree and mountain, and many collectable nuggets in the book where this poem is to be found.
Different country, another kind of grass, two dissimilar poetic approaches, but although Gary Snyder sees through a different lens from that of Molly Holden, each poet brings in knife-edge focus such outstanding detail of, say, the shirt each is viewing; but save a gasp of delight for their pin-sharp perceptions of moist meadow grass newly scythed, and snuff-dry, airborne snippets of alfalfa, (more commonly called lucerne in Britain), sunlit through cracks between the barn-side tiles.
Now with both poems in front of you, we'd love to receive your impressions.
Poem posted on Saturday 5th August 2017.
More on Grass
Far from Brian Patten's denuded city park to the farmed grasslands of Britain and America, this week's postings offer two reflections on grass grown not for pleasure, but for fodder; here is the first:-
Photograph of Haymaker, 1890
It is not so much the image of the man
that's moving - he pausing from his work
to whet his scythe, trousers tied
below the knee, white shirt lit by
another summer's sun, another century's -
as the sight of the grasses beyond
his last laid swathe, so living yet
upon the moment previous to death;
for as the man stooping straightened up
and bent again they died before his blade.
Sweet hay and gone some seventy years ago
and yet they stand before me in the sun,
stems damp still where their neighbours' fall
uncovered them, succulent and straight,
immediate with moon-daisies.
(1927 - 1981)
Molly Holden was a London-born British poet and Cholmondeley Award winner. Her maiden name was Gilbert, and she was a granddaughter of the popular children's author Henry Gilbert who published his 'Robin Hood and the Men of the Greenwood' in 1912.
Critics reviewing Molly Holden's poetry have commented on certain similarities with Thomas Hardy and Edward Thomas, and this can be no bad thing when they add that they see no imitation and that this poet's style is her own. Her observations draw on a concern for fine detail as she shares with her readers the joy of each fresh discovery.
'Photograph of Haymaker, 1890' was published in 'To Make Me Grieve', Chatto and Windus Ltd, 1968.
Poem posted on Wednesday 2nd August 2017.
Omphaloskepsis - the pro response:
Towards a Definition of Itself
When in public, poetry should take off its clothes
and wave to the nearest person in sight.
It should be seen in the company of thieves and lovers
rather than that of journalists and publishers;
on sighting mathematicians it should unhook the algebra
from their minds and replace it with poetry,
on sighting poets it should unhook the poetry from their minds
and replace it with algebra;
it should touch those people who despise being touched;
it should fall in love with children and woo them with fairy tales;
it should wait on the landing for two years for its mates to come home
then go outside and find them all dead;
when the electricity fails it should wear dark glasses
and pretend to be blind;
it should guide those who are safe into the middle of busy roads
and leave them there;
it should scatter woodworm into the bedrooms of all peg-legged men
not being afraid to hurt the innocent;
it should shout "evil, evil, EVIL" from the roofs of stock exchanges;
it should not pretend to be a clerk or a librarian;
Poetry should be seen lying by the side of road accidents;
hissing from unlit gas rings;
it should scrawl the nymph's secret on her teacher's blackboard
offering her a worm, saying "inside this is a tiny apple";
at dawn it should leave the bedroom and catch the first bus
home to its wife;
at dusk it should chat up a girl nobody wants;
it should be seen standing on the ledge of a skyscraper,
on a bridge with a brick tied around its heart.
Poetry is the monster hiding in a child's dark room,
it is the scar on a beautiful person's face,
it is the last blade of grass being picked from the city park.
(Recorded from a broadcast, long ago, in the age of steam radio and the taffling tape-recorder).
Poem posted on Friday 28th July 2017.
On Friday 28th July 2017, this mainly poetry website will celebrate its first anniversary and, considering our aims, what better way to mark the occasion than to indulge in a little poetic omphaloskepsis, navel-gazing, introspection! To open the debate we have chosen, for this Wednesday posting, to reverse the natural order of pros and cons, inviting to the platform a speaker for the cons. On Saturday we shall, I'm sure, be agog to hear the pro voice in answer.
For now, please welcome Basil Bunting:
What the Chairman told Tom
Poetry? It's a hobby.
I run model trains.
Mr Shaw there breeds pigeons.
It's not work. You don't sweat.
Nobody pays for it.
You could advertise soap.
Art, that's opera; or repertory -
The Desert Song.
Nancy was in the chorus.
But to ask for twelve pounds a week -
married, aren't you -
you've got a nerve.
How could I look a bus conductor
in the face
if I paid you twelve pounds?
Who says it's poetry, anyhow?
My ten year old
can do it and rhyme.
I get three thousand and expenses,
a car, vouchers,
but I am an accountant.
They do what I tell them,
What do you do?
Nasty little words, nasty long words,
I want to wash when I meet a poet.
They're reds, addicts,
What you write is rot.
Mr Hines says so, and he's a schoolteacher,
he ought to know.
Go and find work.
(1900 - 1985)
From 'Collected Poems, 1969, Fulcrum Press.
Basil Cheesman Bunting, British Modernist poet, was born at Scotswood-on-Tyne, Northumberland. His poetic reputation was sealed by the publication of the widely acclaimed long poem 'Briggflatts' in 1966.
He is noted for his love of music and concern for the sonic nature of poetry and his insistence that poetry "is a sound" and should be read aloud. A Quaker education contributed towards his pacifist beliefs and inWW1 his application for exclusion from conscription having been refused, he was arrested in 1918, handed over to the Military, court martialled, and imprisoned in Wormwood Scrubs and Winchester jails. Yet during WW2 he served with British Military Intelligence in Persia, and afterwards continued his work in intelligence for the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company until, in 1952, he was expelled by Mohammad Mossadegh, who had become prime minister the previous year. Back in England Bunting worked as a journalist and newspaper correspondent. He died at Hexham, Northumberland and was buried in the Quaker graveyard at Brigflatts, Sedburgh, Cumbria.
Poem posted on Wednesday 26th July 2017.
Poppies in July
Little poppies, little hell flames,
Do you do no harm?
You flicker. I cannot touch you.
I put my hands among the flames. Nothing burns
And it exhausts me to watch you
Flickering like that, wrinkly and clear red, like the skin of a mouth.
A mouth just bloodied.
Little bloody skirts!
There are fumes I cannot touch.
Where are your opiates, your nauseous capsules?
If I could bleed, or sleep!
If my mouth could marry a hurt like that!
Or your liquors seep to me, in this glass capsule,
Dulling and stilling.
But colorless. Colorless.
(1932 - 1963)
In requesting this poem, Grace Frankish says, I think, all that need be said: "My favourite poem is 'Poppies in July' by Sylvia Plath. I like the disjointedness of it all, and the dark imagery of things like drugs,infidelity and depression in something as innocent as a poppy."
If you'd like to add to this, please do let us know.
Poem posted on Sunday 23rd July 2017.
In some nissen-hut of my mind
I have a stacked bed-roll, wooden chair,
suitcase plastered with peeling labels,
and a cheap clock, measuring lethargic days.
I have no papers. Sometimes I am offered
forged ones, at too high a price.
Now you come, promising real
identity cards. Forgive me if till they arrive
I think too early to rejoice.
(From 'Not Without Homage', Christopher Davies, 1975).
It always lights my fire when I come across another poem for this website, so you can imagine the warmth of receiving a poem of importance to a poet and written by a much loved poet! And, what's more, a work which comes new to me. In suggesting today's poem by Ruth Bidgood, Merryn Williams wrote, "...95 this month and still going strong. [It is] a poem which I discovered at the beginning of my own poetry-writing career and which has always meant a lot to me". One can see why. Published over 40 years ago, this excellent example of poetic multum in parvo well stands the test of time. 'Stateless', I feel, crosses boundaries; it is not only placeless, but also timeless; restless too, blowing in the wind with a high pollen-count. I, too, am already 'catching the smit'! In fact the infection had set in by the time I came to the lines "...no papers. Sometimes I am offered/forged ones, at too high a price.", on the first of a number of readings. Who amongst us could not shape this hat to fit their own head at certain anxious times in our lives? How better express resisted temptation?
I draw comfort from the sense that 'Stateless' speaks both from and to all ages, young and old, saying in effect that although we may feel isolated in our present predicament we are, in spirit, not alone. Though our problem may seem insurmountable, the only way out is through, with each of us set to sing a personal Vincero-o-o...! as we strive towards a common goal. And, for myself, I might add - even if it runs into extra time. Lovely poem, one to keep with the cologne in the handkerchief drawer or, better still, to carry by heart. Vinceremo-o-o...!
Thank you, Merryn, for sharing this treasured work from a poet you love. It is a great pleasure to be posting the poem on the very day Ruth Bidgood reaches the age of 95!
We join Merryn in wishing you a very happy birthday, Ruth! May your pen be ever restless, your voice always strong.
In the intervening years since 'Not Without Homage', Ruth Bidgood has published around a dozen further titles, 'Land Music/Black Mountains', (Cinnamon Press, 2016) being, I believe, her most recent...but you never know...!
Merryn Williams is the founding editor of 'The Interpreter's House' magazine. Her latest poetry collection, 'Letter to my Rival' came out from Shoestring Press in 2015. Merryn is also the editor of 'STRIKE UP THE BAND', Poems for John Lucas at 80. (Plas Gwyn Books, 2017).
Poem posted on Thursday 20th July 2017.
The Body's Vest
Often I wish a thief would steal it,
or a tutting mechanic thumbs-down it,
or the police clamp it, or the Lord,
lowering a crane from the sky, up-reel it.
Each morning it waits to claim me,
demands oil and water, somewhere to go
and a hand to steer it. I confess I fear its
love of journeys; its Homeric glows shame me.
Others go by who put their lives on
every morning and sit inside them
and seem at home and know the way -
perhaps I've the wrong shape and size on?
Often I think I'd like to leave it,
an abandoned creature on the verge,
and 'casting the body's vest aside',
slip off on a slip-road and never retrieve it.
( 'Peterloo Preview 3', 1993)
In Andrew Marvell's poem 'The Garden', the speaker is glorying under the shade of fruit trees so peaceful that he imagines it a good place in which to die. The closing lines are:
' casting the body's vest aside
my soul into the boughs doth glide'.
Poem posted on Saturday 15th July 2017.
She walks in beauty...
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress
Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek, and o'er that brow
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!
George Gordon Noel Byron
Depending upon which of two biographers you believe, Byron was born either in Dover or London. It can be said with certainty however, that George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, aka simply Lord Byron travelled widely in what was to be his brief life span, living for a number of years in Italy, seven of them with Percy Bysshe Shelley, later fighting with the Greeks against the Ottoman Empire.
Wearing the alliterative hats of Poet, Peer and Politician, he acquired a reputation not only for his Romantic poetic style, but also for his flamboyant lifestyle, huge debts, and for his numerous affairs, embracing both AC and DC liaisons.
But eclipsing all these extracurricular diversions, he is now remembered and revered for the results of the day job, and 'She walks in beauty' remains one of his most frequently quoted works, along with the narrative poems 'Childe Harold's Pilgrimage' and 'Don Juan'.
Poem posted on Wednesday 12th July 2017.
After Edward Thomas
Against us all
who wrong you,
won't you fight
as the baited bull
when driven by pain
to retaliate -
you English words.
I know you:
you are regal as queens,
juicy as fruit,
carefree as gay,
as butch as a dame
in a man's suit;
chick as a girl,
or as queer
as the transvestite
in the heat
of the night.
It is strange how the thought
of a close-cut lawn
to smack or crack;
that a joint
can be bought
not to roast
but to smoke,
and a poke
could be other
than the bonnet once worn
by one's mother.
But it's tough
to know what is meant
by a puff,
and a bust
with some frankness
whose flat-vowelled talk
has no frills,
from Grimsby and Clee
and old Ridings
where a spade stays a spade,
and invoices bills,
Let me sometimes stand
and turn my hand
against all whose aims
usurp your good names;
let us win back her wand
for the fairy.
from 'This Day Dawning', Peterloo Poets, 1989.
Poem posted on Saturday 8th July 2017.
Out of us all
That make rhymes,
Will you choose
As the winds use
A crack in the wall
Or a drain,
Their joy or their pain
To whistle through -
You English words?
I know you:
You are light as dreams,
Tough as oak,
Precious as gold,
As poppies and corn,
Or an old cloak;
Sweet as our birds
To the ear,
As the burnet rose
In the heat
Strange as the races
Of dead and unborn:
Strange and sweet
To the eye,
As the dearest faces
That a man knows,
And as lost homes are:
But though older far
Than the oldest yew, -
As our hills are, old, -
Again and again:
Young as our streams
And as dear
As the earth which you prove
That we love.
Make me content
With some sweetness
Have no wings, -
From Wiltshire and Kent
And the villages there,-
From the names, and the things
Let me sometimes dance
Or stand perchance
Fixed and free
In a rhyme,
As poets do.
(1878 - 1917)
- and this is not an end of the matter; Thomas's poem begs for response!
Poem posted on Wednesday 5th July 2017.
There is a
we feel, having
there is a
Set one out
like a bait goat
and wait and
But watch out:
roving packs can
pull your words
find your stake
yanked and some
Kay Ryan - 16th US poet laureate.
(from 'Poetry', Volume 192, No.5 September 2008, Chicago, USA.)
More musings on the wonderful worldscape of words? Yes; coming next.
Poem posted on Saturday 1st July 2017.
An Afternoon Visit
Deep she sank into Henry's mind, such years ago.
Now with her children & her lawyer husband O
she is visited by Henry.
Burned she his gorgeous letters: he kept hers:
some assistant professor for the curious
& to become an associate
will utter with footnotes them, so all can read
& wonder at her spirit, tumultuous
as if a spirit could bleed,
now comes the visit mild & decorous
with Henry's child, & this will happen again
in the world of women and men.
A Henry James title. - Spare her, Mr Bones.
Preserve her the privacy which she now owns. -
- O yes, I will, I will.
After our deaths, then will the problem rise
when my blind eyes look into her blind eyes,
in the bronze damp & the chill.
25 June 68
'[John Berryman, 1914-1972] a major American poet, is said to be one of the confessional poets. This term means that the poet uses his poetry in order to comment upon himself as a human, stepping outside his own skin, as it were, and looking back as if at another person. To do this well one needs to be a fine poet and Berryman is; he used a set formula for this, writing about a character he called Henry who was himself. Occasionally, Henry became Mr. Bones as well. This persona appeared widely in Berryman's life's work, his dream songs, a very long sequence of short poems. In all over 400 were published in addition to other Henry pieces. Becoming detached from himself, Berryman was able to be objective, look at his own weaknesses and strengths and, by writing about them, was able to accept them and himself for what he was. Many of the poems are humorous, as if Berryman was laughing aside at himself and they are written in a conversational style,as if the poet was actually talking. However, a closer look at the poems shows that under the apparently easy style of writing there is a very fine artistry. Strict rhyme-schemes appear, consonance and alliteration abound and the choice of words is expert, saying what is meant with a sharp clarity. Visual imagery is common, too.'
(Berryman's poem and these notes are taken from 'Contemporary British and North American Verse', Oxford University Press, 1981)
Poem posted on Wednesday 28th June 2017.
The Butcher and Friends
- with variations
One thing leads to another, and the same goes for people including tradesmen, so it's hardly surprising that Hugo Williams' 'Butcher' should send me in search of his friend the Baker and their mate who made candlesticks, in an old jingle I'd known when a child, as 'Three Men in a Tub'. My enquiries reached back to find that at the end of the eighteenth century, volume two of Hook's Christmas Box published a nursery rhyme under the title 'Dub a dub dub', rather than the heading we know today, 'Rub-a-dub-dub'. This short poem remains with us in many variations, three of which are reproduced here:
No. 1. Rub-a-dub-dub,
Three men in a tub,
And who do you think they were?
The butcher, the baker,
They all sailed out to sea,
'Twas enough to make a man stare.
No. 2. Hey! rub-a-dub, ho! rub-a-dub, three maids in a tub,
And who do you think were there?
The butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker,
And all of them gone to the fair.
(The above version has been interpreted as concerning three 'respectable' ladies watching "a dubious sideshow at a local fair".
No. 3. Rub a dub dub,
Three fools in a tub,
And who do you think they be?
The butcher, the baker,
The candlestick maker.
Turn them out, knaves all three.
Should you wish to probe further, look up Roud Folk Song Index, a database set up by Steve Roud, and turn to Index No. 3101. Happy Reading!
Posted on Saturday 24th June 2017.
The butcher carves veal for two.
The cloudy, frail slices fall over his knife.
His face is hurt by the parting sinews
And he looks up with relief, laying it on the scales.
He is a rosy young man with white eyelashes
Like a bullock. He always serves me now.
I think he knows about my life. How we prefer
To eat in when it's cold. How someone
With a foreign accent can only cook veal.
He writes the price on the grease-proof packet
And hands it to me courteously. His smile
Is the official seal on my marriage.
(From 'Symptoms of Loss', OUP 1965)
Coming next: further reflections on the butcher and friends.
Poem posted on Wednesday 21st June 2017.
The Old Ladies
They walked in straitened ways,
They had not great possessions;
They lived before the days
When ladies learned professions.
And one was rather mad
And all were rather trying,
So little life they had.
So long they spent a-dying.
In spotless white lace caps.
Just sitting, sitting, sitting,
Their hands upon their laps
Or occupied with knitting.
And now they all are gone.
Miss Alice and Miss Ella.
Miss Jane (at ninety-one)
And poor Miss Arabella.
The house they loved so well
And always kept so nicely,
Some auctioneer will sell
'At six o'clock precisely.'
It seemed as though their lives
Were wasted more than others':
They would have made good wives,
They might have made good mothers.
Yet this was their reward:
Through ninety years of leisure
Small precious things to guard,
None else had time to measure.
Their crystal was their pride,
Their porcelain a token,
Kept safe until they died
And handed on unbroken.
(1895 - 1969)
From 'Mournful Numbers', Macmillan, London & Basingstoke.
I have previously written that "poetry happens", and of course it happens anywhere at any time, even in the busiest of lives. Colin Ellis, born into a family of builders' merchants served during WW1 in the Leicestershire Royal Horse Artillery, was seriously wounded and won the Military Cross. The interruption of normal working life by WW2 saw him appointed Director of Home Grown Cereals at the Ministry of Food in Colwyn Bay.
Beware the persons sitting next to you, they might be carrying the germ!
Poem posted on Saturday 17th June 2017.
Holy Sonnet XIV
Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town to another due,
Labour to admit you, but oh, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
(1573 - 1631)
In directing us towards John Donne, Marta Ador writes, "I recommend his Holy Sonnet 14. It expresses that ultimate desire at the heart of faith to be utterly devoured and transmuted by divinity. A death wish and the urge to ascend at the same time."
Donne is generally recognised as 'Numero Uno' of contemporary metaphysical poets which included Andrew Marvell, George Herbert and Henry Vaughan, noted for a vibrant use of language, inventive metaphor and sensual observations. Donne became an Anglican priest in 1615 and was made Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral, London in 1621. Great learning, a dollop of poverty and a secret marriage to Anne More with whom he had 12 children, all coloured his life. You could say he was a busy man! He died in 1631 and was buried at the old St.Paul's Cathedral.
Poem posted on Wednesday 14th June 2017.
FLY, envious Time, till thou run out thy race;
Call on the lazy leaden-stepping hours,
Whose speed is but the heavy plummet's pace;
And glut thyself with what thy womb devours,
Which is no more than what is false and vain,
And merely mortal dross;
So little is our loss,
So little is thy gain.
For when, as each thing bad thou has entomb'd
And last of all thy greedy self consumed,
Then long Eternity shall greet our bliss,
With an individual kiss;
And joy shall overtake us, as a flood,
When every thing that is sincere and good,
And perfectly divine,
With truth, and peace, and love, shall ever shine,
About the supreme throne
Of Him, to whose happy-making sight, alone,
When once our heavenly-guided soul shall climb,
Then all this earthly grossness quit,
Attired with stars, we shall for ever sit,
Triumphing over Death, and Chance, and thee, O Time!
(1608 - 1674)
This poem, kindly requested by Brian Jones, will, I imagine, figure also on many people's list of favourites; it is a pleasure to be reminded of it.
Along with Love and Death, Time itself is a perpetual theme occupying poets. In our own twentieth century we have Larkin posing the question, in his poem Days, "What are days for?", and finally shying away from his search for an acceptable conclusion. But here we have Milton trying to come to terms with Time three centuries earlier, in an era of religious flux and political upheaval in England - which, come to think of it, seems vaguely familiar today. John Milton, born in Bread Street, London, went on to be a civil servant for the Commonwealth of England under Oliver Cromwell, and it might seem surprising that in those troubled times his mind wasn't always occupied with more pressing business. But Milton was also a scholar and social commentator, writing not only in English but also in Italian, Greek and Latin. He was a campaigner for freedom of speech and of the Press. I think we would have liked and thanked him, Paradise Lost or not.
Poem posted on Saturday 10th June 2017.
Intro to Naming of Parts
I can no longer withhold from this website the one poem above all to convince me that poetry is a necessary part of my life, although it had lain dormant for a good half-century. The need for poetry was jerked out of hibernation when I came across 'Naming of Parts', by Henry Reed. It is a poem which seemed written especially for me, so closely does it mirror my own experience as a young Private, Infantry recruit undergoing weapons training in the back garden of a 'civvy' billet in Cleethorpes. The year was 1941, for both of us. In Reed's poem, the weapon is a rifle, most likely a Lee Enfield, survivor of WW1.
Reed, a bright, successful scholar who excelled in Latin and, as Greek wasn't included in the school curriculum, taught himself the language, was a reluctant army conscript, whose obvious intelligence eventually singled him out for transfer to the code-cracking team at Bletchley Park. My guess that his short army career began in an Officer Cadet Training Unit, leading to commissioned rank, seems confirmed when in the poem the basically educated instructor, who had worked his way up from the Other Ranks perhaps to become Sergeant, uses the word 'please' which is nowhere to be found in any military training manual; this tells me that those in his audience were 'Officer Material' therefore gentlemen above his class, and that the word might have been intended sarcastically. If so, Reed's use of 'please' in the poem might be seen as an astute response to that sarcasm. The change in diction between the early part of each stanza and the lines that follow, exactly capture the very different voices of the clipped-spoken Sergeant and the otherwise-thinking poet who gives away to us his secret Springtime tendency towards the call of sex rather than the call to arms.
Let's now reprise this masterpiece.
Naming of Parts
TO ALAN MICHELL
Vixi duellis nuper idoneus
Et militavi non sine gloria
Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But today,
Today we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighbouring gardens,
And today we have naming of parts.
This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
Which in our case we have not got.
This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easy
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
Any of them using their finger.
And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
They call it easing the Spring.
They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
And the breech, and the cocking- piece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and the almond blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,
For today we have naming of parts.
(1914 - 1986)
The Latin phrase addressed to Reed's friend translates to something like: 'Recently I lived a life suitable for a soldier, and served not without glory'. It is a clever reference all the way back to a work by the poet Horace (Born 65 BC, Quintus Horatius Flaccus: 'Horace's Odes', Book Three, No. XXVI, 'To Venus', which tells of successful conquests with girls (puellis). But Reed substitutes 'd' for 'p', to now read 'duellis', referring to the soldierly life which was being forced upon him while he ruefully yearned for the Horatian métier.
Poem posted on Wednesday 7th June 2017.
Lawrence - not the bearded one - the one
Who dressed up as a wog and crashed his bike
Doing a ton, if those old jobs could make it then,
Lawrence said something about courage: Courage is like
A bank account, you keep on writing cheques
Until the day comes when there's nothing there,
No more to draw. You're broke. What next?
They tie you to the gunwheel in the lashing air
Or blind you with a bandage and lead you out
As target for small arms.
If you are very rich,
Got plenty in that bank, you'll probably get hit
But by the other lot; wind up in a different ditch
But just as dead. With extraordinary luck
You might survive and get back home quite safe.
But what if all your days you've been dead broke,
Never owned a cheque-book in your life,
Nothing in the bank at all?
You go to jail
Or try to bluff it out, let others pay your way.
It's not an easy game, and if you fail,
Are shown up as a fraud, no matter what you say
You'll get the gunwheel or the firing-squad.
It isn't fair? All right, but don't tell me.
The Company Commander is the man to see
Or, better still, complain direct to God.
This hard-hitting poem by Vernon Scannell calls for some background consideration before either Scannell or I be labelled 'Racist' and the poem 'Unacceptable'. Firstly, given that poets often set their subject against the backdrop of their own youth or previous times, and as Scannell and I share the same birth year (1922) and parallel WW2 army service, and would both have been brought up with similar norms to observe, I take the liberty of speaking for us both.
The age of "the gunwheel" and "firing-squad" was as recent as WW1, and was now etched into military lore, still talked about.
As for Scannell's use of the word 'wog', I remember my daughter as a child, having among her dolls not only a gollywog but also a piccaninny called Tondelayo; she had, too, a gollywog lapel badge, the logo of a well-known jam firm.
Scannell's soldiering in North Africa would have taught him, as well as a few phrases in Arabic, the common use of 'wog' among the allied troops, and "dressed up as a wog" would have been frequently used in describing Lawrence of Arabia. The term wog has somewhere been explained as an acronym for Wily Oriental Gentleman. However,I can offer no argument in favour of using derogatory language, but it's what we sometimes, perhaps unthinkingly do; my own guideline, which I suppose I sometimes fail to observe, is to avoid causing offence.
The poem's title 'Any Complaints?' is itself a tongue-in-cheek side-swipe at the military procedure requiring the Orderly Officer of the Day, accompanied by the Cook, walking through the Other Ranks' Mess at meal times, repeating this question at the head of each table, and recalls the conspiracy of silence in response, even though no gunwheel, or pack-drill had been mentioned.
Poem posted on Saturday 4th June 2017.
'But that was nothing to what things came out
From the sea-caves of Criccieth yonder.'
'What were they? Mermaids? Dragons? Ghosts?'
'Nothing at all of any things like that.'
'What were they, then?'
'All sorts of queer things,
Things never seen or heard or written about,
Very strange, un-Welsh, utterly peculiar
Things. Oh, solid enough they seemed to touch,
Had anyone dared it. Marvellous creation,
All various shapes and sizes, and no sizes,
All new, each perfectly unlike his neighbour,
Though all came moving slowly out together.'
'Describe just one of them.'
'I am unable.'
'What were their colours?'
'Mostly nameless colours,
Colours you'd like to see; but one was puce
Or perhaps more like crimson, but not purplish.
Some had no colour.'
'Tell me, had they legs?'
'Not a leg or foot among them that I saw.'
'But did these things come out in any order?
What o'clock was it? What was the day of the week?
Who else was present? How was the weather?'
'I was coming to that. It was half-past three
on Easter Tuesday last. The sun was shining.
The Harlech Silver Band played Marchog Jesu
On thirty-seven shimmering instruments,
Collecting for Caernarvon's (Fever) Hospital Fund.
The populations of Pwllheli, Criccieth,
Portmadoc, Borth, Tremadoc, Penrhyndeudraeth,
Were all assembled. Criccieth's mayor addressed them
First in good Welsh and then in fluent English,
Twisting his fingers in his chain of office,
Welcoming the things. They came out on the sand,
Not keeping time to the band, moving seaward
Silently at a snail's pace. But at last
The most odd, indescribable thing of all,
Which hardly one man there could see for wonder,
Did something recognizably a something.'
'It made a noise.'
'A frightening noise?'
'A musical noise? A noise of shuffling?'
'No, but a very loud, respectable noise -
Like groaning to oneself on Sunday morning
In Chapel, close before the second psalm.'
'What did the mayor do?'
'I was coming to that.'
Robert Graves, English poet and novelist born in Wimbledon, is perhaps most widely known for his memoir based on experiences during the 1914-1918 war, saying "Good-bye to all That". Having, within a month of the war's outbreak voluntarily enlisted, Graves was commissioned into the Royal Welch Fusiliers and served in France where he was seriously wounded in the battle of the Somme. 'Stopping a Blighty one' brought him home to hospital and convalescence, after which he was posted back to France. His first collection of poems, 'Over the Brazier' came out in 1916. The son of Alfred Perceval Graves, a celebrated Irish poet with strong Celtic interests, Robert Graves, himself a Celticist and student of Irish mythology, produced over 140 works, and when published in Germany, used his full name of Robert von Ranke Graves. From the 1960s to shortly before his death Graves exchanged letters with poet/comedian Spike Milligan, a collection of which was published in a book titled 'Dear Robert, Dear Spike' (A.Sutton, 1991). He died at his eventual home in Deya, Majorca, and was buried in the nearby cemetery.
Poem posted on Wednesday 31st May 2017.
Aberdarcy: the Main Square
By the new Boot's, a tool-chest with flagpoles
Glued on, and flanges, and a dirty great
Baronial doorway, and things like portholes,
Evans met Mrs. Rhys on their first date.
Beau Nash House, that sells Clothes for Gentlemen,
Jacobethan, every beam nailed on tight -
Real wood, though, mind you - was in full view when,
Lunching at the Three Lamps, she said all right.
And he dropped her beside the grimy hunk
Of castle, that with luck might one day fall
On to the Evening Post, the time they slunk
Back from that lousy weekend in Porthcawl.
The journal of some bunch of architects
Named this the worst town centre they could find;
But how disparage what so well reflects
Permanent tendencies of heart and mind?
All love demands a witness: something 'there'
Which it yet makes part of itself. These two
Might find Carlton House Terrace, St. Mark's Square,
A bit on the grand side. What about you?
There's little I can add about this pair; sex-crazed librarian, the one, but who is Mrs. Rhys? And, look you, Aberwhere? I searched, and drew a blank. What about you?
Poem posted on Saturday 27th May 2017.
But For Lust
But for lust we could be friends,
On each other's necks could weep:
In each other's arms could sleep
In the calm the cradle lends:
Lends awhile, and takes away.
But for hunger, but for fear,
Calm could be our day and year
From the yellow to the grey:
From the gold to the grey hair,
But for passion we could rest,
But for passion we could feast
On compassion everywhere.
Even in this night I know
By the aweful living dead,
By this craving tear I shed,
Somewhere, somewhere it is so.
Ruth Pitter, CBE, FRSL, (1897-1992) was born in Ilford and during her lifetime published eighteen volumes of new and collected poetry as well as holding a partnership in which she worked as painter in a decorative furniture company. In 1955 she became the first woman to receive the Queen’s Gold Medal For Poetry.
Poem posted on Wednesday 24th May 2017.
Twilight it is, and the far woods are dim, and the rooks cry and call.
Down in the valley the lamps, and the mist, and a star over all,
There by the rick, where they thresh, is the drone at an end,
Twilight it is, and I travel the road with my friend.
I think of the friends who are dead, who were dear long ago in the past,
Beautiful friends who are dead, though I know that death cannot last;
Friends with the beautiful eyes that the dust has defiled,
Beautiful souls who were gentle when I was a child.
(A Reader-written Poem)
Most pupils of the 1920-1930s British schoolrooms would, if asked, be able to quote at least a few words from 'Cargoes' or 'Sea-Fever' by John Masefield who became U.K. poet laureate in 1930 until his death in 1967. Both of these are memorable for their strong sensory imagery and rhythmic beat; his lesser-known yet haunting 'Twilight', you might agree, is a harder nut to crack. The ability to determine where factual reality gives way to metaphor might provide the nutcracker revealing this poem's kernel and I, for one, am still searching and seeming to go from warm to cold in the hunt.
When Masefield, born 1878, was only six, his mother died giving birth to his sister and he was sent to live with an aunt. After an unhappy boarding-school education he was sent to HMS Conway to train for a life at sea, which his aunt had thought would cure his wasteful addiction to reading. Contrarily, Masefield found that the sailor's life not only gave him lots of time for both reading and writing, but a taste for the story-telling with which the crew entertained each other. The die was cast. When eventually he was tiring of nautical life, his final sea voyage was on a windjammer bound for New York where he 'swallowed the anchor' and deserted ship. But what kind of lifestyle gives background for the reader of 'Twilight'? After leaving his ship Masefield spent the next few months as a vagrant in New York State, taking whatever odd jobs he could find, before settling for a couple of years to a regular job in a Yonkers, NY carpet factory. Here he was required to work long hours in return for a wage which bought him a wide range of literature, both modern and classical, some weeks as many as twenty books. He returned to England on a passenger steamer in 1897.
So is 'Twilight' a distillation resulting from his early unsettled nature and wide reading, a quest for the meaning of human life?
Yes, I think it is, because it leaves me with all the shared, unanswered questions about the wonderful gift of friendship. And this is why in recent years I've returned to 'Twilight' more times than I have been called back by 'Sea-Fever' or 'Cargoes'.
Poem posted on Saturday 20th May 2017.
A Rose by Any Other...
(Blake, Burns, Parker)
The Sick Rose
O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:
Has found thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy soul destroy.
A Red, Red Rose
My love is like a red, red rose
That's newly sprung in June:
My love is like the melody
That's sweetly played in tune.
As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in love am I:
And I will love thee still, my dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry.
Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun:
And I will love thee still, my dear,
While the sands o' life shall run.
And fare thee weel, my only love,
And fare thee weel a while!
And I will come again, my love,
Thou' it were ten thousand mile.
One Perfect Rose
A single flow'r he sent me, since we met.
All tenderly his messenger he chose;
Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet -
One perfect rose.
I knew the language of the floweret;
'My fragile leaves,' it said, 'his heart enclose.'
Love long has taken for his amulet
One perfect rose.
Why is it no one ever sent me yet
One perfect limousine, do you suppose?
Ah no, it's always just my luck to get
One perfect rose.
Poems posted on Wednesday 17th May 2017.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting - -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
(from 'Dream Work', 1986)
Thanks go to Jesse Leon who wrote, [This is] "one of the poems that has spoken to me deeply."
Mary Oliver, a winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, was born in 1935 in Maple Heights, Cleveland, Ohio, and became one of America's best selling poets, noted for her keen, close-up observations of the natural world. In one of her many memorable quotes she advises, "Keep some room in your heart for the Unimaginable".
Poem posted on Saturday 13th May 2017.
Like Nothing Else in the Habitable Globe
On reading the letters and journals of Dora Carrington
Virginia loved the way her purple words
tore like a mayfly up and down the page.
She wrote just like she talked, her friends observed,
all in one runaway rush. When her ink was green
the lines would dance. Minute was minuet.
She couldn't spell - once told of a sogjourn
(which might have done if it had poured with rain)
and felt annoyed - I can't make it look better.
Her quick nib spiralled out mistakes she saw
but most remained. Small letters mixed with
spawning eccentric words to twin with thought.
(The quotation which forms the title of this poem
is Virginia Woolf's description of Carrington's letters.)
(from 'Speaking English', Five Leaves Poetry, 2007)
Dora de Houghton Carrington (1893-1932), generally known simply as 'Carrington', was a painter and decorative artist working in a variety of genres including landscape and portrait, notably one of E.M. Forster, and became a member of the Bloomsbury Group associating with Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey and Ralph Partridge. Her work received little critical comment during her lifetime because she very seldom exhibited, and the fact that her art was never signed on completion suggests that she didn't seek fame and that she lived the artist's life for art's sake. Beyond this, as became the fashion of her set, living through the uncertain times of WW1, she had a number of sexual affairs with both genders, never finding constancy despite her marriage to ex-soldier Ralph Partridge in 1921. However, her abiding love for the homosexual conscientious objector Lytton Strachey led to her decision after he died of cancer in January 1932, that life without him was no longer worth living: using a borrowed gun, she killed herself. Her art lives on, in London galleries, in a number of books written about her life, and in the 1995 biographical film 'Carrington' written by Michael Holroyd, starring Emma Thompson, Jonathan Pryce and Steven Waddington.
Poem posted on Wednesday 10th May 2017.
I have come to the borders of sleep,
The unfathomable deep
Forest where all must lose
Their way, however straight,
Or winding, soon or late;
They cannot choose.
Many a road and track
That, since the dawn's first crack,
Up to the forest brink,
Deceived the travellers,
Suddenly now blurs,
And in they sink.
Here love ends,
Despair, ambition ends;
All pleasure and all trouble,
Although most sweet or bitter,
Here ends in sleep that is sweeter
Than tasks most noble.
There is not any book
Or face of dearest look
That I would not turn from now
To go into the unknown
I must enter, and leave, alone,
I know not how.
The tall forest towers;
Its cloudy foliage lowers
Ahead, shelf above shelf;
Its silence I hear and obey
That I may lose my way
(1878 - 1917)
Felix Hodcroft writes: "You ask for us to share poems we love. It was the hundredth anniversary, last Sunday, [9th April 2017] of Edward Thomas's death. A great, influential and still much-underrated poet. I offer his multi-levelled masterpiece 'Lights out'."
It will always be a privilege to revisit an Edward Thomas poem and search for, if not discover, solutions to his subtle clues; in this case Felix's brief description, 'multi-levelled' persists throughout the poem. It might not be a great exaggeration to suggest there are as many answers as there are readers of this posting.
My own reading of the poem suggests that the first couple of stanzas are about our busyness with the workaday strivings which allow little time for rest, until, in the third verse, the 'forest' of sleep overcomes all resistance and obliterates a the desperations, hopes and even love, and forces us into submission.
Stanza 4 seems an acknowledgement of our eventual mortality, and even, with background information given us later, perhaps a prophetic hint of his impending sudden death, "I know not how"?
With hindsight, my main impression of the final enigmatic verse, is of a deeply troubled mind, 'shell-shocked - as it used to be called - by the ravages of war; an imagery of forest-edge flowers (poppies?), with the forest "shelf above shelf" (bodies of the 'fallen' ?), the heard and obeyed silence (that of the corpses?) closing with the poet's readiness (eagerness?) for his own death in the face of it all.
It is sometimes said that the poet - and indeed any creative artist - has one less skin than the rest of us. This thought might be reinforced by the following biographical details:
Although a peace-loving family man already above the age for compulsory military service in July 1915, Edward Thomas voluntarily enrolled with the Artists Rifles, then in November 1916, was commissioned and transferred to the Royal Garrison Artillery, joining the regiment as Second Lieutenant. He was killed shortly after his arrival in the Pas-de-Calais during the Battle of Arras. His wife, Helen, recalls his leaving home to join the war, in her Memoir 'World Without End'; you can read a brief extract by turning to the Prose page and scrolling down to the entry of 22nd October 2016, on which same date Thomas's poem 'And You, Helen' appeared on the Poetry page.
As always your variant interpretations would be welcome via the Contacts page.
Poem posted on Saturday 6th May 2017.
A Kite for Michael and Christopher
All through that Sunday afternoon
a kite flew above Sunday,
a tightened drumhead, an armful of blown chaff.
I'd seen it grey and slippy in the making,
I'd tapped it when it dried out white and stiff,
I'd tied the bows of newspaper
along its six-foot tail.
But now it was far up like a small black lark
and now it dragged as if the bellied string
were a wet rope hauled upon
to lift a shoal.
My friend says that the human soul
is about the weight of a snipe,
yet the soul at anchor there,
the string that sags and ascends,
weigh like a furrow assumed into the heavens.
Before the kite plunges down into the wood
and this line goes useless
take in your two hands, boys, and feel
the strumming, rooted, long-tailed pull of grief.
You were born fit for it.
Stand in here in front of me
and take the strain.
Responding to a television interviewer, Heaney reflected on this poem, "The dedication to the children was because we both belong to the children...It's a very serious poem, it's a grievous poem in a way. It was risky to write it, in a way, I felt. I dedicated it to them, but it was remembering my own father. The one extraordinary thing that he did for me in childhood was fly a kite. He wasn't inclined to fly kites, he was rarely playing. He had a playful sense of the world, but he was a country man and a farmer, and he didn't tend to go and play with the children on the strand or on the beach or touch a football or anything like that. But the one extraordinary thing I remember was the kite, and the kite is extraordinary in itself. It looked so limber and light up there, but there was a powerful pull. There's a weight and it goes up, but it's hanging. Gravity is in that string. So it's that sensation that I remembered and it then became the long-tailed pull of grief. The poem. Where that came from, I don't know, but it's sunt lacrimae rerum, as Virgil says. Our mortality involves weeping and you'd better be ready yourself for it. The comment in the fourth stanza that the human soul weighs as much as a snipe may be a reference to Fludd* since that is probably the only other place where the idea of the human soul having weight is linked to kites; but 40 pounds is far too heavy for a snipe. Poetic licence, I suppose."
*Robert Fludd, 1574-1637, (born in Milgate House, Bearstead, just a few miles down the road from where I'm typing this) an English physician and astrologer with occult interests, who wrote in Latin and was known also as Robertus de Fluctibus, had published, in 1619, 'A History of the Kite in Europe'.
Poem posted on Wednesday 3rd May 2017.
'You are the bread and the knife,
The crystal goblet and the wine...'
- Jacques Crickillon
You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.
However, not the wind in the churchyard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
It is possible that you are the fish found under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general's head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.
And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.
It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of the rain on the roof.
I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.
I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman's tea cup.
But don't worry, I'm not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and - somehow - the wine.
Thanks to Leah Tucker for sharing this favourite poem.
The epigraph, translated from the French writing of Belgian-born Jacques Crickillon, triggers off this delightful journey of fantasy and takes it full circle, bringing us eventually back to the original concept, leaving us in the tangled back garden of our own emotions.
William James Collins, United States Poet Laureate 2001-2003, published 'Litany' in Poetry Magazine in 2002 and it became immediately popular; it must surely have struck chords with the millions day-dreaming of how best to tell some-one how much they were loved. Billy Collins here taps fruitfully into "the plentiful imagery of the world" and takes his readers with him.
I remember, back in my early twenties and deeply in love with the dream of finding a girl to fall in love with, becoming infatuated with a Jerome Kern song, its lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein going like this:-
'You are the promised kiss of springtime
that makes the lonely winter seem long.
You are the breathless hush of evening
that lingers on the brink of a lovely song.
You are the angel glow that lights a star,
the dearest things I know are what you are...'
I once had the words by heart, and 'All The Things You Are' became for a while my 'girlfriend' until, I'm happy to say, reality intervened with a chance meeting and a dance to the changed music of Glen Miller. The dreams I still dream while awake continue to sustain me, like when I imagine Mr. Billy Collins reading all this, and his knowing that, for this old dreamer, his poem has done its job - and is still working.
Poem posted on Saturday 29th April 2017.
The cow is of the bovine ilk;
One end is moo, the other milk.
(1902 - 1971)
Nash's poem was requested by Lane Stroud whose letter of introduction may be read in full by clicking onto Readers' Responses.
Poem posted Wednesday 26th April 2017.
The Garden of Proserpine
Here, where the world is quiet;
Here, where all trouble seems
Dead winds' and spent waves' riot
In doubtful dreams of dreams;
I watch the green field growing
For reaping folk and sowing,
For harvest-time and mowing,
A sleepy world of streams.
I am tired of tears and laughter,
And men that laugh and weep;
Of what may come hereafter
For men that sow to reap:
I am weary of days and hours,
Blown buds of barren flowers,
Desires and dreams and powers
And everything but sleep.
Here life has death for neighbour,
And far from eye or ear
Wan winds and wet waves labour,
Weak ships and spirits steer;
They drive adrift, and wither
They wot not who make thither;
But no such winds blow hither,
And no such things grow here.
No growth of moor or coppice,
No heather-flower or wine,
But bloomless buds of poppies,
Green grapes of Proserpine,
Pale beds of blowing rushes
Where no leaf blooms or blushes
Save this whereout she crushes
For dead men deadly wine.
Pale, without name or number,
In fruitless fields of corn,
They bow themselves and slumber
All night till light is born;
And like a soul belated,
In hell and heaven unmated,
By cloud and mist abated
Comes out of darkness morn.
Though one were strong as seven,
He too with death shall dwell,
Nor wake with wings in heaven,
Nor weep for pains in hell;
Though one were fair as roses,
His beauty clouds and closes;
And well though love reposes,
In the end it is not well.
Pale, beyond porch and portal,
Crowned with calm leaves she stands
Who gathers all things mortal
With cold immortal hands;
Her languid lips are sweeter
Than love's who fears to greet her
To men that mix and meet her
From many times and lands.
She waits for each and other,
She waits for all men born;
Forgets the earth her mother,
The life of fruits and corn;
And spring and seed and swallow
Take wing for her and follow
Where summer song rings hollow
And flowers are put to scorn.
There go the loves that wither,
The old loves with wearier wings;
And all dead years draw thither,
And all disastrous things;
Dead dreams of days forsaken,
Blind buds that snows have shaken,
Wild leaves that winds have taken,
Red strays of ruined springs.
We are not sure of sorrow,
And joy was never sure;
To-day will die to-morrow;
Time stoops to no man's lure;
And love, grown faint and fretful,
With lips but half regretful
Sighs, and with eyes forgetful
Weeps that no loves endure.
From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.
Then star nor sun shall waken,
Nor any change of light:
Nor sound of waters shaken,
Nor any sound or sight:
Nor wintry leaves nor vernal,
Nor days nor things diurnal;
Only the sleep eternal
In an eternal night.
Algernon Charles Swinburne
(1837 - 1909)
This poem, a tour de force in rhyme and alliteration, was requested by Alexander Erbil, with the tentative 'It's a longer one, but it is the best one I have ever read.'
It is indeed a lengthy work, reflecting its concern with things
repetitive; timelessness. Proserpine is the Latin name of the Greek goddess Persephone who was married to Hades. The myth has it that she had a garden in the underworld with ever-blooming poppies which when picked would bring a waking sleep causing travellers to lose their sense of direction. She was known as the goddess of death and eternal sleep; it was also said that she would return to the upper world in Spring.
This is admittedly a very sketchy description of the backdrop to Swinburne's poem, but I hope it will help when you re-read the piece.
The poem next in line to follow Swinburne's garden marathon is requested by Lane Stroud, whose insightful and informative letter deserves printing in full on the Readers' Responses page at the same time of posting. As for the poem itself, no words of mine should defile the space it occupies, so I'll say them here:
A poem is a poem is a poem. Watch this space!
Poem posted Saturday 22nd April 2017.
This Spanish poem with English translation is selected by Iván Espinosa who sums up its importance to him, "...it means a lot to me, it always makes me feel good when I read it...because it helps me to feel less lonely with my own feelings." Iván invites our comments:-
Volverán las oscuras golondrinas
en tu balcón sus nidos a colgar,
y otra vez con el ala a sus cristales
Pero aquellas que el vuelo refrenaban
tu hermosura y mi dicha a conemplar,
aquellas que aprendieron nuestros nombres...
iesas... no volverán!.
Volverán las tupidas madreselvas
de tu jardín las tapias a escalar,
y otra vez a la tarde aún más hermosas
sus flores se abrirán.
Pero aquellas, cuajadas de rocío
cuyas gotas mirábamos temblar
y caer como lágrimas del día...
iesas... no volverán!
Volverán del amor en tus oídos
las palabras ardientes a sonar;
tu corazón de su profundo sueño
tal vez despertará.
Pero mudo y absorto y de rodillas
como se adora a Dios ante su altar,
como yo te he querido...; desengáñate,
iasí... no te querrán!
Gustavo Adolfo Becker
The dark swallows will return again
to hang their nests from your balcony,
again will their wings beat softly on your windowpane,
But those that paused for a moment in their flight
to see your beauty and my happiness,
those that learned to sing our names...
they... will not return!
Thick clusters of honeysuckle, to your garden will return,
lovelier than ever,
climbing the mud-brick walls, in afternoon,
their perfumed flowers opened full.
But those that were covered with heavy drops of dew,
which we watched tremble and fall,
like daytime tears...
they... will not return!
Love, again, will return
to sound with burning whispers in your ears;
again, perhaps, will your heart
be roused from languid sleep.
But silent and engrossed and fondly kneeling,
as God before his altar is adored,
as I have loved you dear... be not deluded,
love like this... will not return!
On my first reading I saw this as what I call an 'Alfie' poem begging the question in Burt Bacharach's song for the film 'Alfie', in which the girlfriend whose love is not being returned in kind, ponders two differing interpretations of love, "What's it all about, Alfie?" and continues to grapple with the problem. I offer this analogy with the deepest respect to Gustavo Adolfo Becker whose poem confronts us with a number of possibilities but rightly leaves the evaluation to his readers, who surely will not all agree on the conclusions.
Having now read the translation many times and persevered with the Spanish as best I'm able, I'm still undecided. The oscuras golondrinas/dark swallows of the first stanza immediately suggest a death. Of a person or of a love? Towards the poem's end, 'love, again, will return' seems to rule out death of a loved one, but what does the 'languid sleep' signify? The past tense of 'as I have loved you dear' tells me that the poem's speaker is lamenting the loss of his (her?) own love.
Ah, but what if ...? Any suggestions?
Poem posted Wednesday 19th April 2017.
Views Across The Years
Three Or So
That isn't me, is it?
Relaxing in that leather chair,
In that tacky Greek café.
People talking and drinking,
Music blaring and the rhythm thumping,
Me just sitting 'n' smirking.
First time I'd been abroad,
First time ever in Greece.
I kept irritating my mum 'cause
I wanted to go swimming,
Splash out on the beach,
And get in the way of the
Might be going back again,
To those sparkling beaches next year,
With my mum and brother
And my mum's best friend.
But I'll be thirteen then
Not two or three
And I'll never have the guts to
Interrupt a volleyball match again!
(from 'Spellbound', Poetry Now Young Writers, 1998) ISBN 0 75430 030 7
The World at Twelve
I peeped inside your room to see the wall
where Mum's subaqua mural crowns her long
devotion to the practice of fine arts,
and, yes! you're into Spice Girls now, with all
the actions, all the words of every song!
Encyclopedic knowledge of The Charts
is de rigueur and so, from just above
your bed the five smile down - top of the pops
with Boyzone. Smash Hits ring the VDU
that guards your desk. 'Don't Stop Looking For Love',
you sing; palazzo pants, peep-belly-tops
and platform shoes, your dream. Dreams can come true
so, Katy-Love, although your heart may ache
at times, be sure, when life's a piece of cake
you taste it to the full, don't miss one crumb.
Hold to your dreams, the best is yet to come.
Maurice Rutherford, Ovingham 1998.
(from 'And Saturday Is Christmas', Shoestring Press)
Poems posted Sunday 16th April 2017.
- for Olive
We hadn't thought to meet again
so soon after that first glance,
mutually approving, in the pub
before the dance. Introduction
superfluous. Tuxedo Junction. In the Mood.
I overstayed my leave, then back
to barracks; a last few tedious months
and every day our letters,
each repeating a love
that neither knew the measure of.
Late summer and I came home
to stay, to shake out a future
from the given cardboard box -
grey pinstripe and all.
And all that September we watched
the leaves re-colour our secret wood,
and months later, on the bus
passing that place, you would press
your knee to mine, and it was as good.
Our wedding in April; the honeymoon.
Primroses from a Sussex wood
pressed between cellophane sheets
in an album of fading fashions.
And so again to September, your dirndls
put away, the borrowed wrap-overs
letting out our secret
inch by flowered inch
to a brittle winter.
The burnished snow rejecting
my prints each evening
to your ward. Our firstborn.
The having, holding,
and the long, reluctant letting go.
(from 'And Saturday is Christmas', Shoestring Press).
Olive and I married on 12.04.1947 and our marriage lasted 65 years and 49 days until her death on 30.05.2012. 'Epithalamium' was written to celebrate our 40th (Ruby) anniversary. When Olive died, one of me died with her; this other survives to embrace her on what should have been our 70th (Platinum).
The spoken words may be heard by turning to the Readings page.
Poem posted Wednesday 12th April 2017.
A Few Words On The Soul
We have a soul at times.
No one's got it non-stop,
Day after day,
year after year
may pass without it.
it will settle for a while
only in childhood's fears and raptures.
Sometimes only in astonishment
that we are old.
It rarely lends a hand
in uphill tasks,
like moving furniture,
or lifting luggage,
or going miles in shoes that pinch.
It usually steps out
whenever meat needs chopping
or forms have to be filled.
For every thousand conversations
it participates in one,
if even that,
since it prefers silence.
Just when our body goes from ache to pain,
it slips off duty.
it doesn't like seeing us in crowds,
our hustling for a dubious advantage
and creaky machinations make it sick.
Joy and sorrow
aren't two different feelings for it.
It attends us
only when the two are joined.
We can count on it
when we're sure of nothing
and curious about everything.
Among the material objects
it favors clocks with pendulums
and mirrors, which keep on working
even when no one is looking.
It won't say where it comes from
or when it's taking off again
though it's clearly expecting such questions.
We need it
it needs us
for some reason too.
Lauren Perry's substantial introduction to this poem can be read on the Readers' Responses page, it closes with a frank declaration: "I don't even really believe in a soul. And yet something within me is moved by these words, and responds to them. I hope you like it."
I, too, am not at all convinced about the soul but, yes, I do enjoy the poem for its sustained wit and especially for its concluding open verdict which must surely leave believers amused yet unthreatened. Thank you, Lauren, for sharing your choice.
Poem posted Saturday 8th April 2017.
Garlic and sapphires in the mud
Clot the bedded axle-tree.
The trilling wire in the blood
Sings below inveterate scars
Appeasing long forgotten wars.
The dance along the artery
The circulation of the lymph
Are figured in the drift of stars
Ascend to summer in the tree
We move above the moving tree
In light upon the figured leaf
And hear upon the sodden floor
Below, the boarhound and the boar
Pursue their pattern as before
But reconciled among the stars.
At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from or towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
The inner freedom from the practical desire,
The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded
By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving,
Erhebung without motion, concentration
Without elimination, both a new world
And the old made explicit, understood
In the completion of its partial ecstasy,
The resolution of its partial horror.
Yet the enchainment of past and future
Woven in the weakness of the changing body,
Protects mankind from heaven and damnation
Which flesh cannot endure.
Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness.
To be conscious is not to be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,
The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.
This poem, from the first of Eliot's Four Quartets, 'Burnt Norton', was sent in by Kalyb Prince. For further reading beyond the other three associated poems, the remaining three of the Quartets, written during WW2, are 'East Coker', 'The Dry Salvages' and 'Little Gidding'. Thanks go to Kalyb for re-whetting our appetites and tempting us to the whole banquet.
Poem posted Wednesday 5th April.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.
We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
Of those so close behind me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall wake softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.
Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lonely worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air;
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.
This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.
This memorable villanelle by Roethke, shared by Dani Weisel and requested also by John Davis, is not weakened by some slight tweakings of the repeat lines, rather, it strengthens in its powerful impact. A masterpiece, and a valuable example of the poet's first having learnt the rules before gaining the wisdom to break them.
Poem posted Sunday 2nd April 2017.
Dear Readers and Selectors,
This Portuguese poem with a following English translation is the first of those received via Reddit. It brings all others one step closer. Thank you for your patience.
Amor é um Fogo que Arde sem se Ver
Amor é um Fogo que Arde sem se Ver;
É ferida que dói, e não se sente;
É um contentamento descontente;
É dor que desatina sem doer.
É um não querer mais que bem querer;
É um andar solitário entre a gente;
É nunca contentar-se e contente;
É um cuidar que ganha em se perder;
É querer estar preso por vontade;
É servir a quem vence, o vencedor;
É ter com quem nos mata, lealdade.
Mas como causar pode seu favor
Nos corações humanos amizade,
Se tão contrário a si é o mesmo Amor?
Luís Vas de Camões
An English translation from the Português:-
Love is a Fire that burns unseen
Love is a fire that burns unseen,
a wound that aches but isn't felt,
an always discontent contentment,
a pain that rages without hurting,
a longing for nothing but to long,
a loneliness in the midst of people,
a never feeling pleased when pleased,
a passion that gains when lost in thought.
It's being enslaved of your own free will;
it's counting your defeat a victory;
it's staying loyal to your killer.
But if it's so contradictory,
how can Love, when Love chooses,
bring human hearts into sympathy?
Luis Vaz De Camões
This English translation of a deep-probing introspective Portuguese sonnet searching for the meaning of love, together with the original script, is shared with thanks to Noah Zino.
It has often occurred to me that we English speakers are linguistically lazy, if indeed not arrogant, in expecting the rest of the world to grapple with our language and fickle pronunciations, instead of we with theirs. By 'our' language I mean what has over long years become our language, much of which was originally plundered from other tongues, or pressed upon us by greater nations. If my supposition is correct, we are losing out on much that is beautiful. For instance, isn't the first word of the poem, 'Amor', together with its various spellings and pronunciations in other languages, more romantically musical than the rather abrupt sounding 'love'? Doesn't the sound of the word amor suggest a longer-lasting emotion than its monosyllabic English equivalent? We don't even need to know how exactly to pronounce the Portuguese first line, simply guess and say it out loud to hear the music and warmth in its feminine word endings. Try, after being primed with the meanings in the translation, reading aloud the whole of the original work. It could be well worthwhile, if we open our arms and hearts to any language which at first comes strange to our ears.
Poem posted Wednesday 29th March 2017.
A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.
But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.
The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.
The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own
But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.
The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.
(from 'Shaker, Why Don't You Sing?', Random House, 1983).
Differing from those in the previous poem, both cage and grave here become metaphorical, the captives' attempts to sing more successful, and the song heard much farther afield. It doesn't take much of an imaginative leap to see the cage as any one of the world's concentration camps housing political prisoners: Robbeneiland, say, muzzling Nelson Mandela for so many long years, and the eventual success of his re-echoed song demonstrated by his becoming President of South Africa (as also did two other former detainees, Kgalema Motlanthe and Jacob Zuma).
But there are many other unsung sufferers in 'open prisons' around the world, barred from enjoying the freedoms of expression and passage available to the more fortunate among us: what about them, and their songs? And there are those of us who become encaged simply by the reaction of others to the colour of our skin, the shape of our eyes or nose, and even to the number of complete and fully manoeuvrable limbs gifted to us, and so on. There are many, many songs to be heard. For readers who'd like to know more about the remarkable life from which this poem was sung, Random House also published a seven-volume autobiography of Maya Angelou.
Poem posted Saturday 25th March 2017.
The Caged Goldfinch
Within a churchyard, on a recent grave,
I saw a little cage
That jailed a goldfinch. All was silence save
Its hops from stage to stage.
There was inquiry in its wistful eye,
And once it tried to sing;
Of him or her who placed it there, and why,
No one knew anything.
Confining any creature - or person - in a cage is a violation, and I say this as one who has kept an aviary, albeit of birds bred in captivity and meticulously cared for. Captivity, physical or mental, is still exactly that; imprisonment.
In Hardy's brief poem we have the shock of the tiny prison left on a grave, with no carer present, and we shall never know the captive's fate. But the difficult suggestion to accept comes in that stark final line; are we being invited to include ourselves among the none who "knew anything", as on those occasions when a wrong was being done to someone or something, while we have looked the other way and kept schstum? This is a disturbing poem. Imprisonment takes many forms, not always requiring bars, walls, fences or other physical constraints. We shall look further into these injustices in the next poem we'll share.
Poem posted Wednesday 22nd March 2017.
Strew on her roses, roses,
And never a spray of yew.
In quiet she reposes:
Ah! would that I did too.
Her mirth the world required:
She bath'd it in smiles of glee.
But her heart was tired, tired,
And now they let her be.
Her life was turning, turning,
In mazes of heat and sound.
But for peace her soul was yearning,
And now peace laps her ground.
Her cabin'd, ample Spirit,
It flutter'd and fail'd for breath.
To-night it doth inherit
The vasty Hall of Death.
Requiescat: Let him/her rest in peace.
Poem posted Saturday 18th March 2017.
Little time now
and so much hasn't
been put down as I
should have done it,
But does it matter?
It's all been written
so well by my betters,
and what they wrote
has been my joy.
Nunc Dimittis: Now let depart. From the Gospel according to Luke, 2.29, 'Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.'
It is a pleasure to post this poem and comments, and thanks go to Rodney Wood who took the trouble of sending it via the Contact/Submit page, in the spirit of sharing with us his own pleasure .
In his comments Rodney tells us that James Laughlin was an American poet born in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania who, in 1935 was persuaded by Ezra Pound to put aside his poetic ambitions and "do something useful, like publishing." Thus prompted, Laughlin set up as publisher of New Directions and went on to publish the innovative William Carlos Williams [he of 'The Red Wheelbarrow'], Henry Miller, Dylan Thomas, Delmore Schwartz et al. Laughlin is recorded having written, "It is better to be read by eight hundred readers and be a good writer than be read by all the world and be Somerset Maugham." [Maugham was a prolific British playwright, novelist and short story writer, reputedly the highest paid author of the 1930s]. Laughlin continued writing some poetry and these nine lean lines of 'Nunc Dimittis', which succinctly sum up for him, appeared towards the end of his life.
Rodney, whom I first met at a poetry book launch in The Voice Box, in the South Bank's National Theatre in 1989, goes on to tell us something about poetry in his own life:
"I didn't like poetry at school and only started reading it in my late 20s. My guide was Martin Seymour-Smith's monumental Guide to Modern Literature which introduced me to such stunning writers as Trakl, Vallejo and Mandelstam as well as the poetry of Spain, Italy and Eastern Europe. It's impossible to compete with them so the joy lies in reading them. The only thing you can do as far as writing is concerned is be yourself and discover that maybe there is something only you can say. It has taken me a lifetime to get there."
I'm sure he'd welcome your responses.
Poem posted Wednesday 15th March 2017.
Delirium in Vera Cruz
Where has the tenderness gone, he asked the mirror
Of the Biltmore Hotel, curato 216. Alas,
Can its reflection lean against the glass
Too, wondering where I have gone, into what horror?
Is that it staring at me now with terror
Behind your frail tilted barrier? Tenderness
Was here, in this very bedroom, in this
Place, its form seen, cries heard,by you. What error
Is here, Am I that rashed image?
Is this the ghost of the love you reflected?
Now with a background of tequila, stubs, dirty collars,
Sodium perborate, and a scrawled page
To the dead, telephone off the hook? In rage
He smashed all the glass in the room. (Bill: $50.)
My search for any review or critical comment on this harrowing poem lead to nothing more than biographical details of its author. It emerges that, apart from his writing of novels and poetry, an earlier major achievement was his winning at age 15 the Junior Golf Championship at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake, and you don't do this without having a wholesome breakfast and a fee-paying father, in his case a successful Cotton Broker. Unfortunately the young Lowry's golf prowess didn't grow strong enough to carry the bunkers of adult life, where he became plagued by relationship difficulties with women and with alcohol. You couldn't call his life a happy one.
I would gladly have forgone this peripheral detail for any thoughts on Lowry's poem and its background, and I earnestly plead for any enlightenment you, dear reader, might offer. Please click on Contact and Submit.
Poem posted Saturday 11th March 2017.
A Phone off the Hook
Left for five minutes
it starts up a wail, a siren,
its own private emergency.
It's the agony
of being left like this, open
but with the connection broken.
It would rather have whatever
you might spit or whisper into it
than this. The receiver put down wrong,
balanced at a bad angle
like a broken bone,
and no one coming to mend it.
(from 'Tilt', Jonathan Cape, 2007)
Poem posted Wednesday 8th March 2017.
'How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!'
Yes, that's his chair, and him asleep - his dream
perhaps the one in which he pans for gold
successfully along a mountain stream,
or if not that, could be he dreams the old
repeat of how he takes the trophy when
his chip-shot to the long eighteenth goes in.
The dullness, even rust, awaiting men
like him who're tossed into the offcut bin
with yesterday's steel pen and office stool
might mean a one-way ticket to the void
for lesser men than Smith, but he's no fool -
two fingers to the gainfully employed,
let Penny think he frets his time away -
Smith's chuckling in his dreams again today.
(from 'And Saturday is Christmas', Shoestring Press)
Poem posted Saturday 4th March 2017.
The brightest star came out, the day-star, dawn's star
And the seafaring ship drew near to Ithaca, to home
And that harbour named after the old man of the sea, two
Headlands huddling together as breakwater, windbreak,
Haven where complicated vessels float free of moorings
In their actual mooring-places.
At the harbour-head
A long-leaved olive overshadows a shadowy cave
Full of bullauns, basins hollowed out of stone, stone
Jars for honey-bees, looms of stone on which are woven
Sea-purplish things - also, inextinguishable springs
And two ways in, one looking north where men descend
While the other faces south, a footpath for the gods.
When they had scrunched ashore at this familiar cove
And disembarked, they lifted Odysseus out of his hollow
Just as he was, linen sheet and glossy rug and all,
And put him to bed on the sand, still lost in sleep.
It could be said that old tales are the best - and the better still for each retelling. Well, they don't come much older, or much better than the Greek myth of Homer's 'Odyssey', known also by its Roman title 'Ulysses', about the travels of the king of Ithaca who, after his part in the Trojan war, set sail for the journey home but took ten years to complete it, during which time his wife Penelope and son Telemachus had presumed him dead.
Here, Michael Longley tells his story of the final stage of the Odyssey in a comfortingly soft-pedal style ending as almost a bel canto lullaby, and in the process turns myth into the story-teller's truth. A lovely bedtime tale for children and adults alike and, who knows, perhaps of some consolation to the many waiting families who ever received the dreaded 'Missing believed dead' letter.
Poem posted Wednesday 1st March 2017.
Let me put it this way
Let me put it this way:
if you came to lay
your sleeping head
against my arm or sleeve,
and if my arm went dead,
or if I had to take my leave
at midnight, I should rather
cleave it from the joint or seam
than make a scene
or bring you round.
how does that sound?
(from 'Book of Matches', Faber & Faber, 1993)
Poem posted Saturday 25th February 2017.
That was why I was crying, as you talked on the 'phone:
I saw one image too many. I was watching it alone.
I saw a dog with only three legs, with something in its jaw.
It looked just like a bit of flesh; it caught me on the raw.
You thought that I was laughing, then; I'd changed the channel too.
You didn't see the things I saw; you weren't forced to view
just line on line of burnt-out trucks, smoke-blacked, brown with rust
and all that stuff they'd tried to take vivid in the dust.
I think it was the Carmen rollers, though, that really did the trick.
I think it was thinking of what the dog had that almost made me sick.
I think the torn huddle of bodies it was that made me switch it off -
I'm crying at this bloody traffic jam. You thought it a laugh or cough.
('Peterloo Preview 3', 1993)
Poem posted Wednesday 22nd February 2017.
I Remember, I Remember
Coming up England by a different line
For once, early in the cold new year,
We stopped, and, watching men with number-plates
Sprint down the platform to familiar gates,
'Why, Coventry!' I exclaimed. 'I was born here.'
I leant far out, and squinnied for a sign
That this was still the town that had been 'mine'
So long, but found I wasn't even clear
Which side was which. From where those cycle-crates
Were standing, had we annually departed
For all those family hols?...A whistle went:
Things moved. I sat back, staring at my boots.
'Was that,' my friend smiled, 'where you "have your roots"?'
No, only where my childhood was unspent,
I wanted to retort, just where I started:
By now I've got the whole place clearly charted.
Our garden, first: where I did not invent
Blinding theologies of flowers and fruits,
And wasn't spoken to by an old hat.
And where we have that splendid family
I never ran to when I got depressed,
The boys all biceps and the girls all chest,
Their comic Ford, their farm where I could be
'Really myself'. I'll show you, come to that,
The bracken where I never trembling sat,
Determined to go through with it; where she
Lay back, and 'all became a burning mist'.
And, in those offices, my doggerel
Was not set up in blunt ten-point, nor read
By a distinguished cousin of the mayor,
Who didn't call and tell my father There
Before us, had we the gift to see ahead -
'You look as if you wished the place in Hell,'
My friend said, 'judging from your face.' 'Oh well,
I suppose it's not the place's fault,' I said.
'Nothing, like something, happens anywhere.'
Poem posted Sunday 19th February 2017.
In the Dome-Car
The train, as if departure were a state-
Secret, pulls out without a sound. I glance
Up from The Globe and Mail surprised to see
Through the dome car's dull window, Canada
Lurching quietly by. Find the dome car,
You said to me. You'll see it all from there.
And so I do. Or think I do. At first,
The Bow River, surface of china blue,
Indigo-coloured water squeezing through;
The rail-cars straightening in line ahead.
Giacometti trees like naked men
Stand, sky-high, in a littleness of snow;
Adverts for Honda, holidays (Try us
Ski Jasper); hunks of rock; the red Dutch barn
Recurring like a decimal; a thin
Smear of gold-leaf that is the coming corn.
In ice-edged light the train moves cautiously
Above a toy village, a clip of black
And white Indian ponies, a tepee
Hoisted beside a brake of pointed sticks.
A bridge hurries to meet us; spills across
A frozen lake. A car parked on the ice,
In shifting light, glitters a mile from shore.
We gape at it. But what I see is you
Walking the long nave of the train-station,
Never turning. You'll see it all from there.
We rush the stone horizon. At the last
Moment the mountains part; admit us to
Indian country, where the patient snow
Refuses the year's passage, scars the floor
Of a pale valley, lies in wait for more.
(from 'Causley at 70', edited by Harry chambers, Peterloo Poets, 1979)
Poem posted Wednesday 15th February 2017.
No room for mourning: he's gone out
Into the noisy glen, or stands between the stones
Of the gaunt ridge, or you'll hear his shout
Rolling among the screes, he being a boy again.
He'll never fail nor die
And if they laid his bones
In the wet vaults or iron sarcophagi
Of fame, he'd rise at the first summer rain
And stride across the hills to seek
His rest among the broken lands and clouds.
He was a stormy day, a granite peak
Spearing the sky; and look, about its base
Words flower like crocuses in the hanging woods,
Blank though the dalehead and the bony face.
Sidney Keyes (1922-1943)
Two very different worlds, then, measured by the the respective poets' life-spans, one of eighty years terminated by natural causes - pleurisy; the other, curtailed by enemy action in WW2's Tunisian Campaign, a month short of age twenty-one.
Poetry happens; what more need be added?
Poem posted Saturday 11th February 2017.
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gather'd now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not - Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
(For comment, please see the poem written in homage to Wordsworth, to follow on Saturday next.)
Poem posted Wednesday 8th February 2017.
Class Incident from Graves
Wednesdays were guest night in the mess, when the colonel expected the married officers, who usually dined at home, to attend. The band played Gilbert and Sullivan music behind a curtain... Afterwards the bandmaster was invited to the senior officers' table for his complimentary glass of Light or Vintage.
Robert Graves, from 'Good-bye to All That'
At the officers' table, for half an hour afterwards, port,
The bandmaster. He accepts, one drink long,
All the courtesy of the gentlemen. They are suave, and equal.
'I expect with your job...Do you find...Oh well...'
The bandmaster edges the shining inch of port along the grain of the table,
Precisely covering the knot with the transparent
Base of the glass. He crouches forward over the polished wood
Towards the officers, not comfortably convivial,
Eyes always going to the face speaking next,
Deferential, very pleased.
The band put away their instruments out at the back, having
Drunk their beers, standing.
The detachable pieces of brass lie down
In the felt grooves of the cases, just as they should.
There is laughter of men together, coming from inside.
'Mitchell's still in there, hob-nobbing with the officers.'
The delicate soft-pedal composition of this poem tells us all we need to know about British class distinction as it was during the period bracketed by two world wars. If we didn't get the poet's message in the earlier lines, we can be in no doubt by the time we come to the instrument parts, like the bandsmen themselves, being kept in their place, "just as they should."
I don't think I ever set foot inside an Officers' Mess, but I recall that in my own regiment, promotion to sergeant brought with it the upgrade from beer to the earned trustworthiness of one bottle of gin on the monthly mess bill. These class barriers could be raised to suit changing circumstances - and quickly lowered again afterwards. In war time, on active front-line service, the Officers' Mess and the Other Ranks' Latrine became as one, and it must be said that the result produced was a mutual respect and trust, of each caring for the wellbeing of the other. It is to be hoped that something of this blending remains to make us more accepting and open-minded. Was it a pointer in this direction that, together with my demob suit and 'Exemplary' discharge I was given, not a cap, but a trilby hat?
Poem posted Sunday 5th February 2017.
Counting the Beats
You, love, and I,
(He whispers) you and I,
And if no more than only you and I
What care you or I?
Counting the beats,
Counting the slow heart beats,
The bleeding to death of time in slow heart beats,
Wakeful they lie.
Night, and a cloudless day,
Yet the huge storm will burst upon their heads one day
From a bitter sky.
Where shall we be,
(She whispers) where shall we be,
When death strikes home, O where then shall we be
Who were you and I?
Not there but here,
(He whispers) only here,
As we are, here, together, now and here,
Always you and I.
Counting the beats,
Counting the slow heart beats,
The bleeding to death of time in slow heart beats,
Wakeful they lie.
The fact that I've forgotten when and where first I became aware of this poem is of little importance, because 'Counting the Beats' is itself timeless and placeless. It seems that the pulse of my own heart was already in synchronization with Graves' identical line-end rhyme scheme and gradually increasing length of the first three lines of each stanza. There appears something in the pacing of this poem which is uncannily akin to the smoothly regulated diastolic/systolic rhythm of the human heart. For me, this poem comes labelled, 'Once Read, Never Forgotten'.
There are of course many other works which establish Graves as a major poet and which, some years ago on holiday in Majorca attracted me, rubberneck, grockle from the North, to stand outside the house in Deya where he had lived, and pay a silent homage. Nothing of that cloudless day would add to the pleasure of reading Graves' poems; what I remember is reaching up to pluck a leaf from a lemon tree, crushing and crumpling it between finger and thumb, and carrying away the astringent fragrance to which I remain susceptive, to the extent that zesting a lemon or lime can bring a Deyan pause into my cooking. I welcome the intrusion.
Poem posted Wednesday 1st February 2017.
Visiting from Britain I take my ease
In a Massachusetts yard. Willows
Have opened overnight along the ridge;
This is the second spring I've seen this year.
I watch as my once-English hostess
Moves across the shadow of the spruces
At her door. She calls her home a cottage
And puts on homeliness like a sweater.
She's tried, over and over, to grow grass
Around the place; grass, and a few roses,
And even, look, a bit of privet hedge
To remind her of home in Warwickshire.
She brings me bourbon in an ice-packed glass
And tinkles on about the neighbours' houses.
Americanisms glint like a badge
Pinned onto her. She much prefers life here,
She protests, remembering what life was
For her in England - the dirt, rising prices,
Always having to live at the edge
Of her nerves. Not to mention the weather.
I stir my drink. "I'd not mind it either,
For a while," I say. Martins lodge,
Like my swallows at home, in crevices
Of her roof. "Oh, purple martins, those
Damn things. I'll have to rake them down from there,"
She says. "Mind you, it's not that I begrudge
Them somewhere to live. But if you saw the mess
They make, you wouldn't think me heartless."
Now, in his office near a fall-out shelter
High over downtown Boston, husband Reg
Will be turning his calendar (English views
In Summertime) into May. The two of us,
Last evening, swept the last of winter
Cones into a heap. Outside his garage
Afterwards, he told me, watching the flames,
Of all his new, perpetual worries:
There's his job - they daren't have kids. And Russia.
And how he'll never keep up with the mortgage.
Not to mention the droughts, the six-foot snows,
In the yard where nothing English ever grows.
(from Contemporary British and North American Verse, Oxford University Press, 1981)
'The émigrés', by Sussex born Ted Walker, is one of those excellent tantalizing poems which demand further readings in order to view all the implications arising; it presents a panorama rather than a vista. Consider the restrained use of half/slant/pararhymes in succeeding stanzas until the certainty of full rhyme in conclusion. Give thought to the suggestive Aesopian ghosting of grass appearing greener, grapes being sour; who's disclosing honest feelings, or hasn't even found them yet. And then read the poem once more and see what comes out while burning the cones.
Poem posted Saturday 28th January 2017.
'It's the tobacco that counts'
Epitome of all that's brave and true,
England's Hero, flanked by sail and steam,
surveys the sea, a master of the waves.
A life-belt framed the splendid, bearded face
he lent to pushing fags from hoarding boards.
Epitome of all that's sad but true,
England's Smoker, flanked by sputum pots,
lies fastened to his bed by lung disease.
A Ventimask conceals his stubbled chin
but fails to pink the navy of his lips.
So what avails your life-belt, Hero,now?
What line can reach a man who sinks on land?
Does he remember how your trusty face
conspired to seal him off against the air
and let him drown in seas of open space?
Raymond Tallis (Peterloo Review 1, 1988)
I started on the assault-course of seered throat, coughing and dizziness which was a rite-of-passage for most early-teen-age lads of the middle thirties impatient to emulate fathers and elder brothers and prove their manhood, when I was about 14, and a thin paper packet of five 'Woodbine' cigarettes could be had by breaking the law and daring to feed twopence into a slot machine - another rite-of-passage. I must already have confirmed my addiction to the weed by the time I was earning an office-boy's wage and could spend sixpence on "Ten Player's, please" and the anticipation of opening that favourite branded packet of pleasure soon became as addictive as the contents. Such was the power of pictorial advertising. Later, in the army, the odd man out proved to be the non-smoker, when days were chopped up into 50 minute sessions with 10 minutes' "Fall out for a smoke" with, on overseas postings, fifty fags free issue per week.
I was almost 40 when a chronic dose of 'flu put tobacco out of my life for a month and although I didn't at the time think so, it was my good fortune that my attempts to light-up again foundered, and 'the penny dropped'. I got the message!
Tallis's poem captures the Hero's allure, almost frighteningly, and in my lasting unhookedness, I must cast my vote for plain-packaging, and hope for it to be effective.
P.s. Addiction to poetry is a fine substitute, and comes without a health warning.
Poem posted Wednesday 25th January 2017.
From the helicopter he sees at last
anomalies in the pattern of melt.
The snow has turned informer.
It must have seemed the perfect accomplice,
erasing everything, the way a quilt
might be thrown over a wrecked bed.
Earth was another - tons of it,
shovelled by hand and then by machine,
a loan from the building site
where somebody's cousin worked -
and time, of course. The wound
closed, scabbed over. In summer
there was rough grass, yellow flowers,
Circle again, he says, and hears
his own voice cracking and slipping.
He reads the diagram of broken snow.
He'll need to radio down, get it ground-truthed.
They'll peel back the scab,
expose what everyone knows already:
under the heaviest winter, the stash of warmth.
Jean Sprackland (from 'Tilt', Jonathan Cape, 2007)
Poem posted Saturday 21st January 2017.
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 Wednesday 18th January 2017.
Her kitchen window faced onto the sea,
The sea became her echo, and her company.
She spent each morning at her laundry,
Dipping and wringing, though her flying hands
Grew older, older as her linens drowned.
She worked for absolution. Every tide
Returned with its fresh burdens.
Waters soared. All was submerged, replenished,
Rinsed and drained.
She met the crested rivers, blue and white.
The pattern of her days swam by like moons.
Wearily the ocean watched, and wept,
As music grieves upon its rooted thread.
Its task was also feminine. To grind.
Refining every shore and stone to sand,
Remaking matter into running time.
Rocks into pebbles. Everything made smooth.
Then on her little land, cut from the hill,
She strung the beating sheets, as white as wings.
Air was her witness, and her medium.
She saw the sun was fastened to the stars,
Day on, day on and all things in accord.
The ocean sang and grieved against its bed.
Maureen Wilkinson (Peterloo Preview 1, 1988)
I wonder how many people there are worldwide who go through life, or a large chunk of it, with a natural creative bent burning away inside of them unexpressed because a need to earn the wherewithal to sustain family or other commitments usurps the long hours pursuance of their art would demand?
Maureen Wilkinson, whose perception of, and curiosity for the beauties of the world around her were sharpened when as a child she helped her accident-blinded father come to terms with the loss of eyesight. From the age of seventeen she went on to study painting, four years later receiving a B.A. degree in fine art. Then came life's interventions and inescapable priorities.
But from an early age she had written, especially poetry, and fortunately now her pen gradually took over the self-expression she had planned to release on canvas, and her poetry earned publication. One of her poems, 'Bringing The Night Cow Down', won the 1st (£1,000) prize in the 1987 Peterloo Open Poetry Competition. Somewhere along the way Maureen found herself in tune with the Taoist philosophy of Lao Zi which advocates a simple honest life and noninterference with the course of natural events. I think it is because her empathy with this lifestyle, which rings so true in 'Every Tide' that I commend this poem to you.
Poem posted Saturday 14th January 2017.
Forlorn and glum the couples go
While Capital and Labour fight.
For lack of houses they can't unite
And love says 'Yes,' the builders, 'No.'
Yet, troubling not for time nor rest,
The courting rooks be flying thick,
And not a beak wi'out a stick
And not an elm wi'out a nest.
It do cast down my ancient mind
How senseless fowls can run their show,
Marry and help their children grow,
And not us clever human kind.
Lords of creation we may be,
Though what the mischief we creates
But trouble, taxes, higher rates,
Be damned to us if I can see.
Eden Phillpotts (1862-1960)
Sharing this poem in winter, 2016/2017, when the housing shortage in U.K. is for many an unsurmountable problem, I need only emphasize that it wasn't written yesterday, but at least sixty years ago - and the rooks are still ahead of the game, now flexing their wings for spring. Even today we read (The Guardian,02.01.17), not of activity, but merely plans: "English garden villages to bring 50,000 homes. Fourteen garden villages with almost 50,000 homes are to be built across England...ministers have said."
As Shakespeare had Hamlet say, "Words, words, words."
Poem posted Wednesday 11th January 2017.
This house has been far out at sea all night,
The woods crashing through darkness, the booming hills,
Winds stampeding the fields under the window
Floundering black astride and blinding wet
Till day rose; then under an orange sky
The hills had new places, and wind wielded
Blade-light, luminous black and emerald,
Flexing like the lens of a mad eye.
At noon I scaled along the house-side as far as
The coal-house door. I dared once to look up -
Through the brunt wind that dented the balls of my eyes
The tent of the hills drummed and strained its guyrope,
The field quivering, the skyline a grimace,
At any second to bang and vanish with a flap:
The wind flung a magpie away and a black-
Back gull bent like an iron bar slowly. The house
Rang like some fine green goblet in the note
That any second would shatter it. Now deep
In chairs, in front of the great fire, we grip
Our hearts and cannot entertain book, thought,
Or each other. We watch the fire blazing,
And feel the roots of the house move, but sit on,
Seeing the window tremble to come in,
Hearing the stones cry out under the horizons.
There's little left to be said about this poem which is so strongly descriptive as to make its subject almost tangible, its title hardly necessary by the time we reach the third line. I can add only that for anyone who hasn't previously read Ted Hughes, its language and style of speech are typical of the man from Mytholmroyd, Calderdale, West Yorkshire, with its brittle limestone gritty texture redolent of that area's blunt, beautiful landscape; the man for whom Sylvia Plath's 'Ode' was written.
Poem posted Sunday 8th January 2017.
Ode for Ted
From under crunch of my man's boot
green oat-sprouts jut;
he names a lapwing, starts rabbits in a rout
legging it most nimble
to sprigged hedge of bramble,
stalks red fox, shrewd stoat.
Loam-humps, he says, moles shunt
up from delved worm-haunt;
blue fur, moles have; hefting chalk-hulled flint
he with rock splits open
knobbed quartz; flayed colors ripen
rich, brown, sudden in sunglint.
For his least look, scant acres yield:
each finger-furrowed field
heaves forth stalk, leaf, fruit-nubbed emerald;
bright grain sprung so rarely
he hauls to his will early;
at his hands' staunch hest, birds build.
Ringdoves roost well within his wood,
shirr songs to suit which mood
he saunters in; how but most glad
could be this adam's woman
when all earth his words do summon
leaps to laud such man's blood!
(from 'Sylvia Plath', Poems chosen by Carol Ann Duffy, Published in 2012 by Faber & Faber Ltd)
Poem posted Wednesday 4th January 2017.