Saturday, 29 January 2011


'Der Schreiber'
Carl Spitzweg, 1808-1885

When I was a child, I thought,
Casually, that solitude
Never needed to be sought.
Something everybody had,
Like nakedness, it lay at hand,
Not specially right or specially wrong,
A plentiful and obvious thing
Not at all hard to understand.

Then, after twenty, it became 
At once more difficult to get
And more desired - though all the same
More undesirable; for what
You are alone has, to achieve
The rank of fact, to be expressed
In terms of others, or it's just
A compensating make-believe.

Much better stay in company!
To love you must have someone else,
Giving requires a legatee,
Good neighbours need whole parishfuls
Of folk to do it on - in short,
Our virtues are all social; if,
Deprived of solitude, you chafe,
It's clear you're not the virtuous sort.

Viciously, then, I lock my door.
The gas-fire breathes. The wind outside
Ushers in evening rain. Once more
Uncontradicting solitude
Supports me on its giant palm;
And like a sea anemone
Or simple snail, there cautiously
Unfolds, emerges, what I am.

Philip Larkin

Monday, 24 January 2011


Arcimboldo - The Librarian

Between the GARDENING and the COOKERY
Comes the brief POETRY shelf;
By the Nonesuch Donne, a thin anthology
Offers itself.

Critical, and with  nothing else to do,
I scan the Contents page,
Relieved to find the names are mostly new;
No one my age.

Like all strangers, they divide by sex:
Landscape near Parma
Interests a man, so does The Double Vortex,
So does Rilke and Buddha.

'I travel, you see', 'I think' and 'I can read'
These titles seem to say;
But I remember You, Love is my Creed,
Poem for J.,

The ladies' choice, discountenance my patter
For several seconds;
From somewhere in this (as in any) matter
A moral beckons.

Should poets bicycle-pump the human heart
Or squash it flat?
Man's love is of man's life a thing apart;
Girls aren't like that.

We men have got love well weighed-up; our stuff
Can get by without it.
Women don't seem to think that's good enough;
They write about it,

And the awful way their poems lay them open
Just doesn't strike them.
Women are really much nicer than men;
No wonder we like them.

Deciding this, we can forget those times
We sat up half the night
Chockfull of love, crammed with bright thoughts, names, rhymes,
And couldn't write.

Kingsley Amis

Thursday, 20 January 2011


Oh, have you seen the Tattlesnake and have you seen what's in it,
About - dear me! Tut! What's his name? I'll tell you in a minute.
Thwaites? No, not Thwaites. McCorquodale? No, Gillingwater? Coutts?
The man who wears a high-crowned hat and patent-leather boots.

In philanthropic circles he is known as 'Ready Bob;
I think he lives out Kilburn way and rides a chestnut cob.
He gets it in the Tattlesnake! I wonder how he feels
When all his friends their shoulders shrug and turn upon their heels.

We thought him such a thoroughbread! And now it's all found out,
They'd hardly dare to write like that, if there were any doubt.
Besides, twixt you and me, there was a something queer
About his early history, I think I used to hear.

You don't remember? Well, I do; although I could not say
Precisely what the story was, at such a distant day.
These things will always hang about a fellow's after-life,
Oh, now I know! Yes. Was there not some talk about his wife?

Or else it was his sister, or his mother, or his aunt;
Though if I'm asked to give the facts, I frankly say I can't.
But get the Tattlesnake, my boy; you'll find it worth the money,
Unless, of course, you're one of those, who don't find scandal funny.

That class of writing lacks, I own, the literary zeal
To add a charm to Addison, or polish put on Steele,
Between the Tattlesnake and them it's not a case of choosing;
But personality, if dull, is in its way amusing;

Although the way's not that of wit, nor graciousness, nor grammar,
You would not have a rapier-point upon a blacksmith's hammer!
But what of that? On certain ears wit blunted tells the best,
And satire glads the public heart when as a libel dressed.

Of course, I don't defend the thing: It's bad in many ways;
But is not this 'the golden age'? And I suppose it pays.
So get the Tattlesnake.  -  It's dead? Bless me! You don't mean that?
Well, after all, I'm not surprised. I thought it rather flat.

By chance I saw it once or twice, and then I found it slow;
That shameful article I read about a month ago.

But still some dirt will always stick; and long as he may live,
That that same dirt had not been flung a thousand pounds he'd give;  -

When all his old acquaintance cut and every urchin hoots
The man who wears the high-crowned hat and patent-leather boots.

Godfrey Turner

Writer and Journalist

Saturday, 15 January 2011


I laugh when I hear that the fish in the water is thirsty,
Perceivest thou not how the god is in thine own house,
that thou wanderest from forest to forest so listlessly?

In thy home is the Truth. Go where thou wilt, 
to Benares or to Mathura;
If thy soul is a stranger to thee
The whole world is unhomely.


Translated from the Hindi by
Rabindranath Tagore  
and revised by
Robert Bridges

Kabir, 1450?-1518
Indian Mystic who wrote in Hindi and Punjabi

Tuesday, 11 January 2011


God help us, we have sold our souls, all that was best,
To an enterprise in the hands of the Receiver.
We've no dividends, or rights, for the price we paid.
Yet should our wills choose between this corrupt business
And a paradise to come, rest assured they'd want

The world we have now.

Abu-Al-'Ala' Al-Ma'Arri
Blind Arabic Poet of Baghdad

"The more things change, the more they stay the same"
The Frenchman Alphonse Karr said this in 1849.
It is no less true now than it was then.

Sunday, 9 January 2011


Paws there. Snout there as well. Mustiness. Mould.
Darkness; a desire to stretch, to scratch.
Then has the - ? then is it - ? Nudge the thatch,
Displace the stiffened leaves: look out. How cold,
How dried a stillness. Like a blade on stone,
A wind is scraping, first this way, then that.
Morning, perhaps; but not a proper one.
Turn. Sleep will unshell us, but not yet.

Philip Larkin

Thursday, 6 January 2011


We come only to sleep, we come only to dream,
It is not true, it is not true that we come to live on earth.

We come to be transformed into the spring grasses,
Our hearts come here to put on fresh green. They come here to open their petals.

Our body is a flower, it gives birth to flowers, and it withers.

Anonymous Nahuatl poem
Adapted from a Spanish version by J.M. Cohen

Sunday, 2 January 2011


Every Day is a fresh beginning.
Listen my soul to the glad refrain.
And, spite of old sorrows
And older sinning,
troubles forecasted
And possible pain,
Take heart with the day and begin again.

Susan Coolidge

This poem seems to me eminently suitable to stand at the beginning of a new year, not only a new morning.

It has been used in a UK hospice to bring comfort to patients.
Susan Coolidge is the pseudonym of Sarah Chauncey Woolsey, who was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in January 1835.