Tuesday, 28 December 2010


King Herod's Palace
National Geographic

Who's that knocking on the window,
Who's that standing at the door,
What are all those presents
Lying on the kitchen floor?

Who is the smiling stranger
With hair as white as gin,
What is he doing with the children
And who could have let him in?

Why has he rubies on his fingers,
A cold, cold crown on his head,
Why, when he caws his carol,
Does the salty snow run red?

Why does he ferry my fireside
As a spider on a thread,
His fingers made of fuses
And his tongue of gingerbread?

Why does the world before him
Melt in a million suns,
Why do his yellow, yearning eyes
Burn like saffron buns?

Watch where he comes walking
Out of the Christmas flame,
Dancing, double-talking:

Herod is his name.

Charles Causley

Charles Causley comments:

I wrote this poem for a private Christmas card at the time of the Cold War when such phrases as 'the peaceful use of atomic energy'  for me rang particularly thin. There is a clear reference to the Christian Feast of the Holy Innocents (28 December) or Childermass.

Monday, 20 December 2010


Christmas Shopping in Dublin

Spending beyond their income on gifts for Christmas-
Swing doors and crowded lifts and draperied jungles-
What shall we buy for our husbands and sons
   Different from last year?

Foxes hang by their noses behind plate glass-
Scream of macaws across festoons of paper-
Only the faces on the boxes of chocolates are free
   From boredom and crowsfeet.

Sometimes a chocolate-box girl escapes in the flesh,
Lightly manoeuvres the crowd, trilling with laughter;
After a couple of years her feet and her brain will
   Tire like all the others.

The great windows marshall their troops for assault on the purse
Something-and-eleven the yard, hoodwinking logic,
The eleventh hour draining the gurgling pennies
   Down to the conduits

Down to the sewers of money - rats and marshgas - 
Bubbling in maundering music under the pavement;
Here go the hours of routine, the weight on our eyelids-
   Pennies on corpses’.

While over the street in the centrally heated
Library dwindling figures with sloping shoulders
And hands in pockets, weighted in the boots like chessmen,
   Stare at the printed

Columns of ads, the quickest roads to riches,
Staring at a little and temporary but once we’re
Started who knows whether we shan’t continue,
   Salaries rising,

Rising like a salmon against the bullnecked river,
Bound for the spawning-ground of care-free days-
Good for a fling before the golden wheels run
   Down to a standstill.

And Christ is born - The nursery glad with baubles,
Alive with light and washable paint and children’s
Eyes, expects as its due the accidental
   Loot of a system.

Smell of the South - oranges in silver paper,
Dates and ginger, the benison of firelight,
The blue flames dancing round the brandied raisins,
   Smiles from above them,

Hands from above them as of gods but really
These their parents, always seen from below, them-
Selves are always anxious looking across the
   Fence to the future-

Out there lies the future gathering quickly
Its blank momentum; through the tubes of London
The dead winds blow the crowds like beasts in flight from
   Fire in the forest.

The little firtrees palpitate with candles
In hundreds of chattering households where the suburb
Straggles like nervous handwriting, the margin
   Blotted with smokestacks.

Further out on the coast the lighthouse moves its
Arms of light through the fog that wads our welfare,
Moves its arms like a giant at Swedish drill whose
   Mind is a vacuum.

Louis Macneice

Sunday, 12 December 2010



Thou hast grieved over them for whom grief is unmeet,
though thou speakest words of understanding. The learned
grieve not for them whose lives are fled nor for them
whose lives are not fled.
Never have I not been, never hast thou and never have
these princes of men not been; and never shall time yet
come when we shall not all be.
As the body's tenant goes through childhood and manhood
and old age in this body, so does it pass to other bodies;
the wise man is not confounded therein.
It is the touchings of the senses' instruments, O Kunti's
son, that beget cold and heat, pleasure and pain; it is
they that come and go, that abide not; bear with them, O
thou of Bharata's race.
Verily the man whom these disturb not, indifferent alike to
pain and to pleasure, and wise, is meet for immortality, O
chief of wise men.
Of what is not there cannot be being; of what is there
cannot be aught but being. The bounds of these twain have
been beheld by them that behold the Verity.
But know that That which pervades this universe is
imperishable; there is none can make to perish that
changeless being.

Lesson The Second, verses 11-17
translated from the Sanskrit by F Max Muller

Thursday, 9 December 2010


Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups,
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in. . . . 

Oh Winter, ruler of the' inverted year . . . .
I love thee, all unlovely as thou seem'st,
And dreaded as thou art. Thou hold'st the sun
A prisoner in the yet undawning east
Shortening his journey between morn and noon,
And hurrying him, impatient of his stay,
Down to the rosy west; but kindly still
Compensating his loss with added hours
Of social converse and instructive ease,
And gathering, at short notice, in one group
The family dispersed, and fixing thought,
Not less dispersed by daylight and its cares.
I crown thee king of intimate delights,
Fire-side enjoyments, home-born happiness,
And all the comforts that the lowly roof
Of undisturbed retirement and the hours
Of long uninterrupted evening know.

William Cowper

Saturday, 4 December 2010


Winter Magic

In such a night as this,

Of north wind and rain mixed with snow,
There is someone who drowses in front of a TV,
Someone who resolves to rob a bank.

In such a night as this,

Distant as it takes light to travel in five days,
There is a comet that plummets onto us
From the black womb without height or depth.
The same one Giotto painted,
It will bring neither luck nor disasters,
But ancient ice and a reply, perhaps.

In such a night as this,

There is a half mad old man,
Fine metalworker in his day,
And now he sleeps at Porta Nuova, drinks,

In such a night as this,

Someone stretches out next to a woman
And feels he no longer has weight.
It's today that counts and not tomorrow,
And the flow of time pauses briefly.

In such a night as this,
Witches used to choose hemlock and hellebore
To pick by the light of the moon
And cook in their kitchens.

In such a night as this,
There is a transvestite on Corso Matteotti
Who would give a kidney and a lung
To grow hollow and become a woman.

In such a night as this,
There are seven young men in white lab coats,
Four of them smoking pipes.
They are designing a very long channel
In which to unite a bundle of protons
Almost as swift as light.
If they succeed, the world will blow up.

In such a night as this,

A poet strains his bow, searching for a word
That can contain the typhoon's force,
The secrets of blood and seed.

Primo Levi

Translated from the Italian by
Ruth Feldman and Brian Swann