POETRY IS LIKE TAKING A DEEP BREATH

Saturday, 31 December 2011

AULD LANG SYNE








Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne ?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup !
and surely I’ll buy mine !
And we'll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine ;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.

We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine ;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand my trusty friend !
And give us a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.


For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.


(English translation)


Robert Burns
1759-1796





Thursday, 22 December 2011

CHRISTMAS





I had almost forgotten the singing in the streets,
Snow piled up by the houses, drifting
Underneath the door into the warm room,
Firelight, lamplight, the little lame cat
Dreaming in soft sleep on the hearth, mother dozing.
Waiting for Christmas to come, the boys and me
Trudging over blanket fields waving lanterns to the sky.
I had almost forgotten the smell, the feel of it all,
The coming back home, with girls laughing like stars,
Their cheeks holly berries, me kissing one,
Silent-tongued, soberly, byt he long church wall;
Then back to the kitchen table, supper on the white cloth,
Cheese, bread, the home-made wine;
Symbols of the night's joy, a holy feast.
And I wonder now, years gone, mother gone,
The boys and girls scattered, drifted away with the snowflakes,
Lamplight done, firelight over,
If the sounds of our singing in the streets are still there,
Those old tunes, still praising;
And now, a life-time of Decembers away from it all,
A branch of remembering holly spears my cheeks,
And I think it may be so;
Yes, I believe it may be so.


Leonard Clark
1905-1981

Monday, 12 December 2011

ADVENT




We have tested and tasted too much, lover-
Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder.
But here in the Advent-darkened room
Where the dry black bread and the sugarless tea
Of penance will charm back the luxury
Of a child's soul, we'll return to Doom
The knowledge we stole but could not use.

And the newness that was in every stale thing
When we looked at it as children: the spirit-shocking
Wonder in a black slanting Ulster hill
Or the prophetic astonishment in the tedious talking
Of an old fool will awake for us and bring
You and me to the yard gate to watch the whins
And the bog-holes, cart-tracks, old stables where Time begins.

O after Christmas we'll have no need to go searching
For the difference that sets an old phrase burning-
We'll hear it in the whispered argument of a churning
Or in the streets where the village boys are lurching.
And we'll hear it among decent men too
Who barrow dung in gardens under trees,
Wherever life pours ordinary plenty.
Won't we be rich, my love and I, and
God we shall not ask for reason's payment,
The why of heart-breaking strangeness in dreeping hedges
Nor analyse God's breath in common statement.
We have thrown into the dust-bin the clay-minted wages
Of pleasure, knowledge and the conscious hour-
And Christ comes with a January flower.


Patrick Kavanagh
1904-1967



Friday, 25 November 2011

WHAT I BELIEVE




I believe there is no justice,
but that cottongrass and bunchberry
grow on the mountain.

I believe that a scorpion's sting
will kill a man,
but that his wife will remarry.

I believe, the older we get,
the weaker the body,
but the stronger the soul.

I believe that if you roll me over at night
in an empty bed,
the air consoles you.

I believe that no one is spared 
the darkness,
and no one gets all of it.

I believe we all drown eventually
in a sea of our making,
but that the land belongs to someone else.

I believe in destiny 
and I believe in free will.

I believe that, when all 
the clocks break,
time goes on without them.

And I believe that whatever
pulls us under,
will do so gently,

so as not to disturb anyone,
so as not to interfere
with what we believe in.



Michael C. Blumenthal
1949



Tuesday, 15 November 2011

THE VISITANT

Willows - De Wittsee



A cloud moved close. The bulk of the wind shifted.
A tree swayed over water.
A voice said:
Stay. Stay by the slip-ooze. Stay.

Dearest tree, I said, may I rest here?
A ripple made a soft reply.
I waited, alert as a dog.
The leech clinging to a stone waited
And the crab, the quiet breather.
   
       oooo

Slow, slow as a fish she came,
Slow as a fish coming forward.
Swaying in a long wave;
Her skirts not touching a leaf,
Her white arms reaching towards me.

She came without sound,
Without brushing the wet stones,
In the soft dark of early evening,
She came,
The wind in her hair,
The moon beginning.

       oooo

I woke in the first of morning,
Staring at a tree, I felt the pulse of a stone.
Where's she now, I kept saying,
Where's she now, the mountain's downy girl?

But the bright day had no answer.
A wind stirred in a web of appleworms;
The tree, the close willow, swayed.



Theodore Roethke

1908-1963

Saturday, 12 November 2011

WHEN YOU'VE GOT




When you’ve got the plan of your life
matched to the time it will take
but you just want to press SHIFT / BREAK
and print over and over
this is not what I was after
this is not what I was after.

When you’ve finally stripped out the house
with its iron-cold fireplace,
its mouldings, its mortgage,
its single-skin walls
but you want to write in the plaster
“This is not what I was after.”

When you’ve got the rainbow-clad baby
in his state-of-the-art pushchair
but he arches his back at you
and pulps his Activity Centre
and you just want to whisper
“This is not what I was after.”

When the vacuum seethes and whines in the lounge
and the waste-disposal unit blows,
when tenners settle in your account
like snow hitting a stove,
when you get a chat from your spouse
about marriage and personal growth,

when a wino comes to sleep in your porch
on your Citizen’s Charter
and you know a hostel’s opening soon
but your headache’s closer
and you really just want to torch
the bundle of rags and newspaper

and you’ll say to the newspaper
“This is not what we were after,
this is not what we were after.




Helen Dunmore
1952-



Wednesday, 9 November 2011

THE JOURNEY

René  Magritte  -  Great Journeys



One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.



Mary Oliver
1935-



Thursday, 3 November 2011

THEMES FOR WOMEN


Käthe Kollwitz
Self Portrait



There is love to begin with, early love,
painful and unskilled, late love for matrons
who eye the beautiful buttocks and thick hair
of young men who do not even notice them.


Parturition, it figures, comes after, cataclysmic
at first, then dissolving into endless care
and rules and baths and orthodontic treatment,
Speech days, Open days, shut days, exams.


There are landscapes and inscapes too, sometimes tracts
of unknown counties, most often the one great hill
in low cloud, the waterfall, the empty sands, the few
snowdrops at the back door, the small birds flying.


Politics crop up at election time and ecology
any old time, no ocelot coats, no South African
oranges, a knowledge of the Serengeti
greater than the positioning of rubbish dumps
here in this off-shore island in hard times.


Seasons never go out of fashion, never will,
the coming of Spring, the dying fall
of Autumn into Winter, fine brash summers,
the red sun going down like a beach ball
into the sea. These do not escape the eyes
of women whose bodies obey the tides
and the cheese-paring sterile moon.


As you might expect, death hangs around a lot.
First ageing mothers, senile fathers, providing
the ham and sherry when the show is over,
examining stretched breasts to catch the process
of decay in time. In farmhouse kitchens they make
pigeon pies, weeping unexpectedly over
curved breasts, among the floating feathers.
The men tread mud in after docking lamb's tails,
and smell of blood.





Elizabeth Bartlett
1924-2008


Sunday, 30 October 2011

I SAW A PEACOCK WITH A FIERY TAIL

(Baron Munchhausen)

Karl Friedrich Hieronymus, Freiherr von Münchhausen
in ca. 1740 as a cuirassier in Riga



I saw a Peacock with a fiery tail,
I saw a blazing Comet drop down hail,
I saw a Cloud with ivy circled round,
I saw a sturdy Oak creep on the ground,
I saw a Pismire swallow up a whale,
I saw a raging Sea brim full of ale,
I saw a Venice glass sixteen foot deep,
I saw a Well full of men's tears that weep,
I saw their Eyes all in a flame of fire,
I saw a House as big as the moon and higher,
I saw the Sun even in the midst of night,
I saw the Man that saw this wondrous sight.


Anonymous


Thursday, 27 October 2011

POEM IN OCTOBER



Dylan Thomas 1941


        It was my thirtieth year to heaven
     Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
        And the mussel pooled and the heron
                Priested shore
           The morning beckon
     With water praying and call of seagull and rook
     And the knock of sailing boats on the webbed wall
           Myself to set foot
                That second
        In the still sleeping town and set forth.

        My birthday began with the water-
     Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name
        Above the farms and the white horses
                And I rose
            In a rainy autumn
     And walked abroad in shower of all my days
     High tide and the heron dived when I took the road
            Over the border
                And the gates
        Of the town closed as the town awoke.

        A springful of larks in a rolling
     Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling
        Blackbirds and the sun of October
                Summery
            On the hill's shoulder,
     Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly
     Come in the morning where I wandered and listened
            To the rain wringing
                Wind blow cold
        In the wood faraway under me.

        Pale rain over the dwindling harbour
     And over the sea wet church the size of a snail
        With its horns through mist and the castle
                Brown as owls
             But all the gardens
     Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales
     Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud.
             There could I marvel
                My birthday
        Away but the weather turned around.

        It turned away from the blithe country
     And down the other air and the blue altered sky
        Streamed again a wonder of summer
                With apples
             Pears and red currants
     And I saw in the turning so clearly a child's
     Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
             Through the parables
                Of sunlight
        And the legends of the green chapels

        And the twice told fields of infancy
     That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
        These were the woods the river and the sea
                Where a boy
             In the listening
     Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
     To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
             And the mystery
                Sang alive
        Still in the water and singing birds.

        And there could I marvel my birthday
     Away but the weather turned around. And the true
        Joy of the long dead child sang burning
                In the sun.
             It was my thirtieth
        Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
        Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
             O may my heart's truth
                Still be sung
        On this high hill in a year's turning.



On this day in 1914 DYLAN MARLAIS THOMAS was born in Swansea in Wales.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

AN ARUNDEL TOMB





Side by side, their faces blurred, 
The earl and countess lie in stone, 
Their proper habits vaguely shown 
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat, 
And that faint hint of the absurd - 
The little dogs under their feet. 

Such plainness of the pre-baroque 
Hardly involves the eye, until 
It meets his left-hand gauntlet, still 
Clasped empty in the other; and 
One sees, with a sharp tender shock, 
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand. 

They would not think to lie so long. 
Such faithfulness in effigy 
Was just a detail friends would see: 
A sculptor's sweet commissioned grace 
Thrown off in helping to prolong 
The Latin names around the base. 

They would not guess how early in 
Their supine stationary voyage 
The air would change to soundless damage, 
Turn the old tenantry away; 
How soon succeeding eyes begin 
To look, not read. Rigidly they 

Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths 
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light 
Each summer thronged the grass. A bright 
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same 
Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths 
The endless altered people came, 

Washing at their identity. 
Now, helpless in the hollow of 
An unarmorial age, a trough 
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins 
Above their scrap of history, 
Only an attitude remains: 

Time has transfigured them into 
Untruth. The stone fidelity 
They hardly meant has come to be 
Their final blazon, and to prove 
Our almost-instinct almost true: 
What will survive of us is love.


Philip Larkin
1922-1985


Sunday, 23 October 2011

IN BEAUTY MAY I WALK




In beauty may I walk
All day long may I walk
Through the returning seasons may I walk

Beautifully will I possess again
Beautifully birds
Beautifully joyful birds


On the trail marked with pollen may I walk
With grasshoppers about my feet may I walk
With dew about my feet may I walk
With beauty may I walk
With beauty before me may I walk
With beauty behind me may I walk
With beauty above me may I walk
With beauty all around me may I walk

In old age, wandering on a trail of beauty,
living again, may I walk
It is finished in beauty
It is finished in beauty



Anon
From the Navajo (trans. Jerome K. Rothenberg)



Wednesday, 19 October 2011

THE PEOPLE OF THE OTHER VILLAGE

Sebastian Vrancx 1573-1647
Flemish Baroque Painter

Soldiers Plunder a Farm



The people of the other village
hate the people of this village
and would nail our hats
to our heads for refusing in their presence to remove them
or staple our hands to our foreheads
for refusing to salute them
if we did not hurt them first: mail them packages of rats,
mix their flour at night with broken glass.
We do this, they do that.
They peel the larynx from one of our brothers' throats.
We devein one of their sisters.
The quicksand pits they built were good.
Our amputation teams were better.
We trained some birds to steal their wheat.
They sent to us exploding ambassadors of peace.
They do this, we do that.
We canceled our sheep imports.
They no longer bought our blankets.
We mocked their greatest poet
and when that had no effect
we parodied the way they dance
which did cause pain, so they, in turn, said our God
was leprous, hairless.
We do this, they do that.
Ten thousand (10,000) years, ten thousand
(10,000) brutal, beautiful years.


Thomas Lux
1946




Thursday, 13 October 2011

WHERE WE ARE

(after Bede)

Still life with Fruit and Ham
Jan Davidszoon de Heem - Dutch Painter
born ca. 1606, Utrecht




A man tears a chunk of bread off the brown loaf,
then wipes the gravy from his plate. Around him,
at the long table, friends fill their mouths
with duck and roast pork, fill their cups from
pitchers of wine. Hearing a high twittering, the man

looks to see a bird - black with a white patch
beneath its beak - flying the length of the hall,
having flown in by a window over the door. As straight
as a taut string, the bird flies beneath the roofbeams,
as firelight flings its shadow against the ceiling.

The man pauses - one hand holds the bread, the other
rests upon the table - and watches the bird, perhaps
a swift, fly toward the window at the far end of the room.
He begins to point it out to his friends, but one is
telling hunting stories, as another describes the best way

to butcher a pig. The man shoves the bread in his mouth,
then slaps his hand down hard on the thigh of the woman
seated beside him, squeezes his fingers to feel the firm
muscles and tendons beneath the fabric of her dress.
A huge dog snores on the stone hearth by the fire.

From the window comes the clicking of pine needles
blown against it by an October wind. A half moon
hurries along behind scattered clouds, while the forest
of black spruce and bare maple and birch surrounds
the long hall the way a single rock can be surrounded

by a river. This is where we are in history - to think
the table will remain full; to think the forest will
remain where we have pushed it; to think our bubble of
good fortune will save us from the night - a bird flies in
from the dark, flits across a lighted hall and disappears.


Stephen Dobyns
1941





Monday, 10 October 2011

LIVING


Denise Levertov
photo by courtesy of New Directions Publishing Company




The fire in leaf and grass
so green it seems
each summer the last summer.

The wind blowing, the leaves
shivering in the sun,
each day the last day.

A red salamander, 
 so cold and so
easy to catch, dreamily

moves his delicate feet
and long tail. I hold
my hand open for him to go.

Each minute the last minute.


Denise Levertov
1923-1997






Thursday, 6 October 2011

ATLAS

Hesiod - The Theogony - Atlas 




There is a kind of love called maintenance,
Which stores the WD40 and knows when to use it;

Which checks the insurance, and doesn't forget
The milkman; which remembers to plant bulbs;

Which answers letters; which knows the way
The money goes; which deals with dentists

And Road Fund Tax and meeting trains,
And postcards to the lonely; which upholds

The permanently ricketty elaborate
Structures of living; which is Atlas.

And maintenance is the sensible side of love,
Which knows what time and weather are doing
To my brickwork; insulates my faulty wiring;
Laughs at my dryrotten jokes; remembers
My need for gloss and sprouting; which keeps
My suspect edifice upright in air,
As Atlas did the sky.


U.A. Fanthorpe
1929-2009




Sunday, 2 October 2011

MRS. MIDAS



Filippo Lauri 1623-1694
King Midas Judging the Musical Contest between Apollo and Pan




It was late September. I'd just poured a glass of wine, begun
to unwind, while the vegetables cooked. The kitchen
filled with the smell of itself, relaxed, its steamy breath
gently blanching the windows. So I opened one,
then with my fingers wiped the other's glass like a brow.
He was standing under the pear tree snapping a twig.

Now the garden was long and the visibility poor, the way
the dark of the ground seems to drink the light of the sky,
but that twig in his hand was gold. And then he plucked
a pear from a branch - we grew Fondante d'Automne - 
and it sat in his palm like a light bulb. On.
I thought to myself, Is he putting fairy lights in the tree?

He came into the house. The doorknobs gleamed.
He drew the blinds. You know the mind; I thought of
the Field of the Cloth of Gold and of Miss Macready.
He sat in that chair like a king on a burnished throne.
The look on his face was strange, wild, vain. I said,
What in the name of God is going on? He started to laugh.

I served up the meal. For starters, corn on the cob.
Within seconds he was spitting out the teeth of the rich.
He toyed with his spoon, then mine, then with the knives, the forks.
He asked where was the wine. I poured with shaking hand,
a fragrent, bone-dry white from Italy, then watched
as he picked up the glass, goblet, golden chalice, drank.

It was then that I started to scream. He sank to his knees.
After we had both calmed down, I finished the wine
on my own, hearing him out. I made him sit
on the other side of the room and keep his hands to himself.
I locked the cat in the cellar. I moved the phone.
The toilet I didn't mind. I couldn't believe my ears:

how he'd had a wish. Look, we all have wishes; granted.
But who has wishes granted? Him. Do you know about gold?
It feeds no one; aurum, soft, untarnishable; slakes
no thirst. He tried to light a cigarette; I gazed, entranced,
as the blue flame played on its luteous stem. At least,
I said, you'll be able to give up smoking for good.

Seperate beds. In fact, I put a chair against my door,
near petrified. He was below, turning the spare room
into the tomb of Tutankhamun. You see, we were passionate then,
in those halcyon days; unwrapping each other, rapidly,
like presents, fast food. But now I feared his honeyed embrace,
the kiss that would turn my lips to a work of art.

And who, when it comes to the crunch, can live
with a heart of gold? That night, I dreamt I bore
his child, its perfect ore limbs, its little tongue
like a precious latch, its amber eyes
holding their pupils like flies. My dream-milk
burned in my breasts. I woke to the streaming sun.

So he had to move out. We'd a caravan
in the wilds, in a glade of its own. I drove him up
under cover of dark. He sat in the back.
And then I came home, the women who married the fool
who wished for gold. At first I visited, odd times,
parking the car a good way off, then walking.

You knew you were getting close. Golden trout
on the grass. One day, a hare hung from a larch,
a beautiful lemon mistake. And then his footprints,
glistening next to the river's path. He was thin,
delirious; hearing, he said, the music of Pan
from the woods. Listen. That was the last straw.

What gets me now is not the idiocy or greed
but lack of thought for me. Pure selfishness. I sold
the contents of the house and came down here.
I think of him in certain lights, dawn, late afternoon,
and once a bowl of apples stopped me dead. I miss most,
even now, his hands, his warm hands on my skin, his touch.




Carol Ann Duffy
1955



Carol Ann Duffy has been Poet Laureate since 1st May 2009.




Friday, 30 September 2011

STANCE





Now I sit my child on the jut 
of my hip, and take
his weight with the curve
of my waist, like a tree
split at the fork,
like lovers leaning out of a waltz.

Nothing is lost, I was never
one of those girls
stood slim as a sapling.
I was often alone at the dance.



Kate Clanchy
1965



Wednesday, 28 September 2011

AUBADE

 Philip Larkin statue, Hull, England.
The statue, by sculptor Martin Jennings, was unveiled on the Hull Paragon Station concourse
on 2 December 2010, 25 years to the day after the poet Philip Larkin died.



I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what's really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.
The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
- The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused - nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast, moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear - no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anasthetic from which none come round.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small, unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can't escape,
Yet can't accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.


Philip Larkin
1922-1985





Friday, 23 September 2011

WHAT'S LEFT


a stand of willowherb



I used to wait for the flowers,
my pleasure reposed on them.
Now I like plants before they get to the blossom.
Leafy ones - foxgloves, comfrey, delphiniums -
fleshy tiers of strong leaves pushing up
into air grown daily lighter and more sheened
with bright dust like the eyeshadow
that tall young woman in the bookshop wears,
its shimmer and crumble on her white lids.

The washing sways on the line, the sparrows pull
at the heaps of drying weeds that I've left around.
Perhaps this is middle age. Untidy, unfinished,
knowing there'll never be time now to finish,
liking the plants - their strong lives -
not caring about flowers, sitting in weeds
to write things down, look at things,
watching the sway of shirts on the line,
the cloth filtering light.

I know more or less 
how to live through my life now.
But I want to know how to live what's left
with my eyes open and my hands open;
I want to stand at the door in the rain
listening, sniffing, gaping.
Fearful and joyous, 
like an idiot before God.



Kerry Hardie
b. 1951 in Singapore





Wednesday, 21 September 2011

OPHELIA'S CONFESSION

John Everett Millais
Detail of Ophelia



Every day God pats my head and calls me
angel, his little broken woman
and gives me flowers as if I hadn't had enough of these
and I choke back my rage and he mistakes this
for distress as I stand there shaking
in my little sackcloth dress.

Had I ever had the choice
I'd have worn a very different dress,
slit from breast to navel and far too tight
and I'd have smoked and sworn and been
out of my head on drugs, not grief, and the flowers
would have been a tattoo around my ankle,
not an anchor to drag me down, and as for
being a virgin, I'd have slept with both men and women.

I would never recommend a shallow stream
and what was no more than a daisy chain
as being the ideal way to die.
It was far too pretty but I had to improvise
and I was a poet, far more so than him,
who threw out every word he ever thought
as if that might have kept his sorry life afloat.

I didn't drown by accident. I was a suicide.
At least let me call my mind my own
even when my heart was gone beyond recall.

Today, a car crash might have ben my final scene,
a black Mercedes in a tunnel by the Seine,
with no last words, no poetry,
with flashbulbs tearing at my broken body
because broken was the way I felt inside,
the cameras lighting up the wreckage of a life.
That would, at least, have been an honest way to die.



Tracey Herd
1968



Friday, 16 September 2011

NUDE DESCENDING A STAIRCASE

Marcel Duchamp
Nu Descendant Un Escalier - 1912



Toe upon toe, a snowing flesh, 
A gold of lemon, root and rind,
She sifts in sunlight down the stairs
With nothing on. Nor on her mind.

We spy beneath the banister
A constant thresh of thigh on thigh -
Her lips imprint the swinging air
That parts to let her parts go by.

One-woman waterfall, she wears
Her slow descent like a long cape
And pausing, on the final stair
Collects her motions into shape.


X.J. Kennedy
1921




Kennedy comments: "The poem was inspired by Marcel Duchamp's painting of the same title, but describes that work only with very rough fidelity".  (The work's title has the masculine gender)

X.J. Kennedy was born in Dover, New Jersey. His first volume of poetry  - of the same name - won the 1961 Lamont Award.


Monday, 12 September 2011

ELEGY FOR HIMSELF

Tower of London - Traitor's Gate
(Wikipedia)



Written in the Tower of London Before his Execution





My prime of youth is but a frost of cares,
My feast of joy is but a dish of pain,
My crop of corn is but a field of tares,
And all my good is but vain hope of gain;
The day is past, and yet I saw no sun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

My tale was heard and yet it was not told,
My fruit is fallen and yet my leaves are green,
My youth is spent and yet I am not old,
I saw the world and yet I was not seen;
My thread is cut and yet it is not spun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

I sought my death and found it in my womb,
I looked for life and saw it was a shade,
I trod the earth and knew it was my tomb,
And now I die, and now I was but made:
My glass is full, and now my glass is run,
And now I live, and now my life is done. 


Chidiock Tichborne
1558 - 1586



In spite of this very moving elegy, Tichborne was not primarily a poet.
He was a conspirator in the Babington Plot, six men who were pledged to kill Queen Elizabeth
and restore the Kingdom to the Church of Rome.


Tuesday, 6 September 2011

ON LIVING

Earth Observatory NASA


1

Living is no joke. You must live with great seriousness
like a squirrel, for example,
I mean, expecting nothing above and beyond living,
I mean your entire purpose should be living.
You must take living seriously,
I mean so much so, so terribly
that, for example, your hands tied behind your back, your back to the wall,
or in your fat goggles
and white laboratory coat
you can die for people,
even for people whose faces you have not seen,
without anyone forcing you,
even though you know the most beautiful, the most real thing is living.

I mean, you must take living so seriously
that, even when you're seventy, for example, you'll plant olive seeds,
and not so the trees will remain for the children,
but because though you fear death you don't believe in it,
I mean because living is more important.


2

Let's say we're due for serious surgery,
I mean there's a chance
we might not get up from the white table.
Even if it's impossible not to feel sorrow at leaving a little too early
we'll still laugh at the Bektashi joke,
We'll look out the window to see if it's raining,
or impatiently await
the latest news.

Let's say we're on the front,
for something worth fighting for, let's say.
At the very first assault, on that very day
we could keel over and die.
We'll know this with a strange resentment,
but we'll still wonder madly
about how this war, which could last years, will end.

Let's say we're in prison
and nearly 50,
and let's imagine we have 18 more years before the opening of the iron doors.
We'll still live with the outside,
with its people, its animals, its toil and wind,
I mean with the outside beyond the wall.

I mean, however and wherever we are
we must live as if we will never die.


3

This earth will grow cold,
a star among stars,
and one of the smallest too,
a gilded granule in blue velvet, I mean,
I mean this tremendous world of ours.

This earth will grow cold one day,
and not like a chunk of ice
or a dead cloud -
it'll roll like an empty walnut shell
endlessly in the pitch black.

One must lament this now,
must feel this pain now.
This is how you must love this earth
so you can say "I've lived" . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Nâzim Hikmet
1902-1963


translated from the Turkish by Deniz Perin




Nazim Hikmet was he first modern Turkish poet, as well as a playwright, novelist and memoirist. He was born in Salonika in the Ottoman Empire (now Thessalonika, Greece) and died in Moscow.



Saturday, 3 September 2011

NOW THE HUNGRY LION ROARS





Now the hungry lion roars, 
And the wolf behowls the moon;
Whilst the heavy ploughman snores,
All with weary task fordone.
Now the wasted brands do glow,
Whilst the screech-owl, screeching loud,
Puts the wretch that lies in woe
In remembrance of a shroud.
Now it is the time of night
That the graves all gaping wide,
Every one lets forth his sprite, 
In the church-way paths to glide:
And we fairies, that do run
By the triple Hecate's team,
From the presence of the sun,
Following darkness like a dream, 
Now are frolic: not a mouse
Shall disturb this hallow'd house:
I am sent with broom before,
To sweep the dust behind the door.


William Shakespeare




There is a tawny owl living in a hollow in the horse chestnut tree in the garden. In autumn, the female's kew-wick  sounds for hours each evening and late into the night. As I type Puck's monologue from 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' I hear her calling.

The call of the tawny owl sounds like 'komm mit' (come with)  in German and is said to presage a death. 


Tuesday, 30 August 2011

OFFICE FRIENDSHIPS





Eve is madly in love with Hugh
And Hugh is keen on Jim.
Charles is in love with very few
And few are in love with him.

Myra sits typing notes of love
With romantic pianist's fingers,
Dick turns his eyes to the heavens above
Where Fran's divine perfume lingers.

Nicky is rolling eyes and tits
And flaunting her wiggly walk.
Everybody is thrilled to bits
by Clive's suggestive talk.

Sex suppressed will go berserk,
But it keeps us all alive.
It's a wonderful change from wives and work,
And it ends at half past five.



Gavin Ewart
1916-1995




Unless the mood takes me, or I receive requests to the contrary, enough now of levity, back to the serious matter of poetry in September. 

Sunday, 28 August 2011

ON THE RHINE


Paddle Steamer 'Rheinland', passing the Loreley Rock.



On, on the vessel steals;
Round go the paddle-wheels,
And now the tourist feels
As he should;
For king-like rolls the Rhine, 
And the scenery's divine,
And the victuals and the wine
Rather good.

From every crag we pass'll
Rise up some hoar old castle;
The hanging fir-groves tassel
Every slope:
And the vine her lithe arm stretches
Over peasants singing catches -
And you'll make no end of sketches,
I should hope.

We've a nun here (called Thérèse),
Two couriers out of place,
One Yankee with a face
Like a ferret's;
And three youths in scarlet caps
Drinking chocolate and schnapps -
A diet which perhaps
Has its merits.

And day again declines;
In shadow sleep the vines,
And the last ray through the pines
Feebly glows,
Then sinks behind yon ridge;
And the usual evening midge
Is settling on the bridge
Of my nose.

And keen's the air and cold,
And the sheep are in the fold,
And Night walks sable-stoled
Through the trees;
And on the silent river
The floating starbeams quiver; -
And now the saints deliver
Us from fleas.


C.S. Calverley
1831-1884

Poet and Wit



C.S. Calverley was the literary father of what has been called the "university school of humour".

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

KID




Batman, big shot, when you gave the order 
to grow up, then let me loose to wander
leeward, freely through the wild blue yonder
as you liked to say, or ditched me, rather,
in the gutter . . . . well, I turned the corner.
Now I've scotched that 'he was like a father
to me' rumour, sacked it, blown the cover
on that 'he was like an elder brother' 
story, let the cat out on that caper
with the married woman, how you took her 
downtown on expenses in the motor.
Holy robin-redbreast-nest-egg-shocker!
Holy roll-me-over-in-the-clover,
I'm not playing ball-boy any longer
Batman, now I've doffed that off-the-shoulder
Sherwood-Forest-green and scarlet number
for a pair of jeans and crew-neck jumper;
now I'm taller, harder, stronger, older,
Batman, it makes a marvellous picture:
you without a shadow, stewing over
chicken giblets in the pressure cooker,
next to nothing in the walk-in larder,
Punching the palm of your hand all winter,
you baby, now I'm the real boy wonder.



Simon Armitage
1963



Simon Armitage comments:

"It gave me great pleasure taking a big, swanky character like Batman and placing him in a little terraced house in West Yorkshire. See how he liked it. I suppose the poem is about power dynamics: father/son, employer/employee, funny guy/straight man, etc. Bravado fuelled by bitterness is the tone of voice I was hoping to catch."



Sunday, 21 August 2011

THE LADY AT THE WELL-SPRING


Auguste Renoir - La Source



He is quite captive to the Lady of the Well-Spring,
Who will rescue him?
Into the French drawing-room the afternoon sun shone
And as the French ladies laughed their white faces
Barred by the balcony shadows seemed to make grimaces.
In a far corner of the room
Sat the English child Joan
As far away as she could get but without exasperation
Only to be freed from the difficulty of conversation.
'Quite captive to the lady of the Well-Spring
Who will rescue him?'
Now I have an excuse to go
Said Joan, and walked out of the window
Down the iron staircase and along the path
And then she began to run through the tall wet grass.
Overhead the hot sun slanting
Fell on Joan as she ran through the field panting,
Faster faster uphill she goes hoping
That as the ground goes steeply sloping
She will find the well-spring. Into a little wood
She runs, the branches catching at her feet draw blood
And there is a sound of piping screaming croaking clacking
As the birds of the wood rise chattering.
And now as she runs is the bicker
Of a stream growing narrower in a trickle
And a splash and a flinging, it is water springing.
Now with her feet in deep moss Joan stands looking
Where on a bank a great white lady is lying
A fair smooth lady whose stomach swelling
Full breasts fine waist and long legs tapering
Are shadowed with grass-green streaks. The lady smiles
Lying naked. The sun stealing
Through the branches, her canopies, glorifies
The beautiful rich fat lady where she lies.
Never before in history
In a place so green and watery
Has lady's flesh and so divine a lady's as this is
With just such an admiring look as Joan's met with.
'Quite captive to the Lady of the Well-Spring?'
What nonsense, it is a thing
French ladies would say
In sophisticated conversation on a warm day.
I do not wish to rescue him, blurts Joan,
The Lady lolls, do you wish to go home?
No, says Joan, I should like to live
Here. Right, says the lady, you are my captive.
The child Joan fully sees the beauty her eye embraces.
Do not think of her as one who loses.



Stevie Smith
1902-71
Poet and Novelist