Friday, 20 September 2013


Imagine you wake up
with a second chance; the blue jay
hawks his pretty wares
and the oak still stands, spreading
glorious shade. If you don’t look back,

the future never happens.
How good to rise in sunlight,
in the prodigal smell of biscuits -
eggs and sausage on the grill.
The whole sky is yours

to write on, blown open
to a blank page. Come on,
shake a leg! You’ll never know
who’s down there, frying those eggs,
if you don’t get up and see.

Rita Dove

Rita Frances Dove is an American poet and author. From 1993-1995 she served as Poet Laureate Consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress.

Monday, 16 September 2013


What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore -
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Langston Hughes

James Mercer Langston Hughes was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist. He was one of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form jazz poetry. Hughes is best known as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013


Life is too short to sleep through.
Stay up late, wait until the sea of traffic ebbs,
until noise has drained from the world
like blood from the cheeks of the full moon.
Everyone else around you has succumbed:
they lie like tranquillised pets on a vet's table;
they languish on hospital trolleys and friends' couches,
on iron beds in hostels for the homeless,
under feather duvets at tourist B&Bs.
The radio, devoid of listeners to confide in,
turns repetitious. You are your own voice-over.
You are alone in the bone-weary tower
of your bleary-eyed, blinking lighthouse,
watching the spillage of tide on the shingle inlet.
You are the single-minded one who hears
time shaking from the clock's fingertips
like drops, who watches its hands
chop years into diced seconds,
who knows that when the church bell
tolls at 2 or 3 it tolls unmistakably for you.
You are the sole hand on deck when
temperatures plummet and the hull
of an iceberg is jostling for prominence.
Your confidential number is the life-line
where the sedated long-distance voices
of despair hold out muzzily for an answer.
You are the emergency services' driver
ready to dive into action at the first
warning signs of birth or death.
You spot the crack in night's façade
even before the red-eyed businessman
on look-out from his transatlantic seat.
You are the only reliable witness to when
the light is separated from the darkness,
who has learned to see the dark in its true
colours, who has not squandered your life.

Dennis O’Driscoll

Dennis O'Driscoll was an Irish poet, essayist, critic and editor. He was regarded by many as one of the best European poets of his time.

Friday, 30 August 2013


Like a fading piece of cloth
I am a failure.

No longer do I cover tables filled with food and laughter
My seams are frayed my hems falling my strength no longer able
To hold the hot and cold

I wish for those first days
When just woven I could keep water
From seeping through
Repelled stains with the tightness of my weave
Dazzled the sunlight with my 

I grow old though pleased with my memories
The tasks I can no longer complete
Are balanced by the love of the tasks gone past

I offer no apology only 
this plea:

When I am frayed and strained and drizzle at the end
Please someone cut a square and put me in a quilt
That I might keep some child warm

And some old person with no one else to talk to
Will hear my whispers

And cuddle

Nikki Giovanni

Yolande Cornelia "Nikki" Giovanni Jr. is an American writer, commentator, activist, and educator. She is currently a distinguished professor of English at Virginia Tech.

Friday, 23 August 2013


The day the world ends
will be clean and orderly
like the notebook
of the best student in the class.
The town drunk
will sleep in a ditch,
the express train will pass
without stopping at the station
and the regimental band 
will endlessly practice
the march they have played in the square for twenty years.

Only some children
will leave their kites tangled
in telephone lines
to run home crying
not knowing what to tell their mothers
and I will carve my initials
in the bark of a linden tree
knowing that it won’t do any good.

The kids will play football
in the empty lot on the edge of town.
The holy sects will come out 
to sing on the street corners.
The crazy old woman will pass with her parasol.
And I will say to myself: “The world cannot end,
because here on the patio the pigeons and the sparrows
 are still squabbling over the grains."

Jorge Teillier

translated from the Spanish by Miller Williams

Friday, 16 August 2013


With a green scarf I blindfolded 
the eyes of the trees
and asked them to catch me.

At once the trees caught me,
their leaves shaking with laughter.

I blindfolded the birds
with a scarf of clouds
and asked them to catch me.

The birds caught me
with a song.

Then with a smile I blindfolded
my sorrow
and the day after it caught me
with a love.

I blindfolded the sun
with my nights
and asked the sun to catch me.

I know where you are, the sun said,
just behind that time.
Don’t bother to hide any longer.

Don’t bother to hide any longer,
said all of them,
as well as all the feelings
I tried to blindfold.

Marin Sorescu

Translated from the Romanian by Michael Hamburger

Tuesday, 13 August 2013


And we love life if we find a way to it.
We dance in between martyrs and raise a minaret for violet or palm trees.

We love life if we find a way to it.

And we steal from the silkworm a thread to build a sky and fence in this departure.
We open the garden gate for the jasmine to go out as a beautiful day on the streets.

We love life if we find a way to it.

And we plant, where we settle, some fast growing plants, and harvest the dead.
We play the flute like the colour of the faraway, sketch over the dirt corridor a neigh.
We write our names one stone at a time, O lightning make the night a bit clearer.

We love life if we find a way to it. . . . .

Mahmoud Darwish

translated from the Arabic by Fady Joudah

Friday, 2 August 2013


Placing a book in my hands, the angel said, “It holds all you would wish to know.” And he vanished.
So I opened the book, which wasn’t thick.
It was written in an unknown alphabet.
Scholars translated it, but produced very different versions.
They disagreed even about their own readings, agreeing neither upon the tops or bottoms of them, nor the beginnings, nor the ends.
Toward the close of this vision, it seemed to me that the book
melted, until it could no longer be told apart from the world that surrounds us.

Paul Valéry

translated from the French by Carolyn Forché 

Ambroise-Paul-Toussaint-Jules Valéry was a French poet, essayist, and philosopher. His interests were sufficiently broad that he can be classified as a polymath.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013


The best of the good people
know that in this life
it’s all a question of proportion;
a little more, a little less . . .

Don’t be surprised, dear friends,
that my forehead is furrowed.
With men I live at peace, but with my insides
I am at war.

The cricket in his cage
by his tomato,
sings, sings, sings.

Pay attention:
a solitary heart
is no heart at all.

In my solitude 
I have seen very clearly
things that are not true.

Antonio Machado

‘Moral Proverbs and Folksongs'
translated from the Spanish by Mary G. Berg and Dennis Maloney

Antonio Cipriano José María y Francisco de Santa Ana Machado y Ruiz, known as Antonio Machado was a Spanish poet and one of the leading figures of the Spanish literary movement known as the Generation of ’98.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013


Someone hands you an English thriller,
highly recommended.
You don’t read English.

You’ve worked up a thirst
for something you can’t afford.

You have deep insights,
brand new, and they sound
like an academic glossing Hoelderlin.

You hear the waves at night
ramping against the shore
and you think: that’s what waves do.

Worse: you’re asked out
when at home you get better coffee,
silence, and you don’t expect to be amused.

Awful: not to die in summer
under a bright sky
when the rich dirt
falls easily from the shovel.

Gottfried Benn

‘This is Bad’ translated from the German by  Harvey Shapiro

Gottfried Benn was a German essayist, novelist, and expressionist poet. A doctor of medicine, he initially welcomed but soon thereafter criticized the National Socialist regime.

Monday, 15 July 2013


Stephen Dunn

A state you must dare not enter
with hopes of staying,
quicksand in the marshes, and all

the roads leading to a castle
that doesn’t exist.
But there it is, as promised,

with its perfect bridge above
the crocodiles,
and its doors forever open.

Stephen Dunn

Dunn is an American poet who has written fifteen collections of poetry. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his 2001 collection, Different Hours and has received an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Among his other awards are three National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships, Guggenheim Fellowship, and Rockefeller Foundations Fellowship. 

Wednesday, 10 July 2013


I have a feeling that my boat 
has struck, down there in the depths,
against a great thing.

And nothing
happens! Nothing . . . Silence . . .Waves . . .
- Nothing happens?
Or has everything happened,
and are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?

Juan Ramon Jiminez

‘Oceans’  translated from the Spanish by  Robert Bly

Juan Ramón Jiménez Mantecón was a Spanish poet, a prolific writer who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1956.

Sunday, 7 July 2013


In front of the mirror in my parents’ bedroom lay a pink conch. I used to approach it on tiptoes, and with a sudden movement put it against my ears. I wanted to surprise it one day when it wasn’t longing with a monotonous hum for the sea. Although I was small I knew that even if we love someone very much, at times it happens that we forget about it.

Zbigniew Herbert

‘Conch’ translated from the Polish by John and Bogdana Carpenter

 Zbigniew Herbert was a Polish poet, essayist, drama writer, author of plays, and moralist. A member of the Polish resistance movement during World War II, he is one of the best known and the most translated post-war Polish writers.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013


What a silence, when you are here, What
a hellish silence.
You sit and I sit.
You lose and I lose.

Janos Pilenszky

translated from the Hungarian by Peter Jay

Saturday, 29 June 2013


The large blue Horse*

We should have been galloping on horses, their hoofprints
Splashes of light, divots kicked out of the darkness,
Or hauling up lobster pots in a wake of sparks. Where
Were the otters and seals? Were the dolphins on fire?
Yes, we should have been doing more with our lives.

Michael Longley

*The Large Blue Horse 
by  Franz Marc
German Expressionist Painter

Thursday, 27 June 2013


The Hubble Extreme Deep Field*

The radiance of that star that leans on me
Was shining years ago. The light that now
Glitters up there my eye may never see,
And so the time lag teases me with how

Love that loves now may not reach me until
Its first desire is spent. The star’s impulse
Must wait for eyes to claim it beautiful
And love arrived may find us somewhere else.

Elizabeth Jennings

*The Hubble Extreme Deep Field
NASA, ESA, UCSC, Leiden Obs and the XDF Team.
This image by the Hubble Space telescope is the deepest image of the far Universe ever taken in visible light.   The faintest galaxies formed 13 billion years ago, just a few percent of its present age.  

Sunday, 19 May 2013


I’ll be a wicked old woman,
thin as a rail,
the way I am now.
Not one of those big-assed ones
with buttocks churning behind them,
as Celine said.
Not one of the good-natured grandmas and aunties
against whose soft and plump arms
it is nice to lay one’s cheek.
I’m more like a scarecrow
in our gardens full of rosy tomatoes
like children’s cheeks.
There are some old crones
who are both vivacious and angry as a bee
with eyes on top of their heads
who see everything, hear everything and have an opinion -
grumblers since birth.
I’ll squawk and chatter all day,
cackle like a hen over her chicks
about the days when I was
a young, good-looking girl.
When I led boys by the nose.
Colts and stallions I tamed,
with the flash in my eyes, the flash of my skirt,
passing over infidelities and miseries
the way a general passes over his lost battles.
I’ll be free to do anything as an old woman,
among things I still can and want to do
like playing bridge or dancing
the light-footed dances of my days.
I’ll spin and trip on my stick-like legs,
attached to my body like toothpicks to a kabob.
That old hag sure can boogie!
The young smarties gathered around me
will shout and applaud.
An old woman like a well-baked bun with sesame seeds,
that’s what I’m going to be like.
I’ll stick between everyone’s teeth, as I did before,
while with a wide hat and dresses down to the ground
I stroll through the landscapes of my past life.
Smelling the furze, admiring the heather,
on every thistle catching my undergarment - my soul.

Radmila Lazic

translated from the Serbian by Charles Simic 

Bloodaxe Books

Radmila Lazic is a leading Serbian poet and activist. Born in 1949, she has published six award-winning poetry collections as well as anthologies of anti-war letters and women poets. She is founder and editor of the journal Profemina.

Born in Serbia, Charles Simic is one of America’s leading poets. He won the 1990 Pulitzer Prize. His own poetry is published in Britain by Faber. He teaches at the University of New Hampshire.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013


For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth, but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue. And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean, and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man,
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods,
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world
Of eye and ear, both what they half-create,
And what perceive; well pleased to recognize
In nature and the language of the sense,
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being.

William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth was a major English Romantic poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature with the 1798 joint publication Lyrical Ballads.

The full text of Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey can be found here.

My source:
Poetry For The Spirit
Poems of Universal Wisdom And Beauty
Edited by Alan Jacobs

Tuesday, 23 April 2013


Uccello: St George and The Dragon, National Gallery


Not my best side, I'm afraid.
The artist didn't give me a chance to
Pose properly, and as you can see,
Poor chap, he had this obsession with
Triangles, so he left off two of my
Feet. I didn't comment at the time
(What, after all, are two feet
To a monster?) but afterwards
I was sorry for the bad publicity.
Why, I said to myself, should my conqueror
Be so ostentatiously beardless, and ride
A horse with a deformed neck and square hoofs?
Why should my victim be so
Unattractive as to be inedible,
And why should she have me literally
On a string? I don't mind dying
Ritually, since I always rise again,
But I should have liked a little more blood
To show they were taking me seriously.


It's hard for a girl to be sure if
She wants to be rescued. I mean, I quite
Took to the dragon. It's nice to be
Liked, if you know what I mean. He was
So nicely physical, with his claws
And lovely green skin, and that sexy tail,
And the way he looked at me,
He made me feel he was all ready to
Eat me. And any girl enjoys that.
So when this boy turned up, wearing machinery,
On a really dangerous horse, to be honest
I didn't much fancy him. I mean,
What was he like underneath the hardware?
He might have acne, blackheads or even
Bad breath for all I could tell, but the dragon--
Well, you could see all his equipment
At a glance. Still, what could I do?
The dragon got himself beaten by the boy,
And a girl's got to think of her future.


I have diplomas in Dragon
Management and Virgin Reclamation.
My horse is the latest model, with
Automatic transmission and built-in
Obsolescence. My spear is custom-built,
And my prototype armour
Still on the secret list. You can't
Do better than me at the moment.
I'm qualified and equipped to the
Eyebrow. So why be difficult?
Don't you want to be killed and/or rescued
In the most contemporary way? Don't
You want to carry out the roles
That sociology and myth have designed for you?
Don't you realize that, by being choosy,
You are endangering job prospects
In the spear- and horse-building industries?
What, in any case, does it matter what
You want? You're in my way.

U.A. Fanthorpe

Monday, 22 April 2013


I so liked Spring last year
Because you were here; -
The thrushes too -
Because it was these you liked to hear -
I so liked you.

This year’s a different thing, -
I’ll not think of you.
But I’ll like Spring because it is simply Spring
As the thrushes do.

Charlotte Mew

Tuesday, 16 April 2013


Alfonsina Storni

The woods of the horizon 
are on fire;
eluding flames,
the swift blue bucks
of twilight

Little golden goats
migrate toward
the vault
and recline
on the blue moss.

the city 
rises up,
a cement rose,
motionless on its stem
of dark cellars.

Its black pistils -
towers, cupolas -
waiting for lunar 

by the flames of the fire
and lost
among the petals of the rose,
almost invisible,
crossing back and forth
the men . . .

Alfonsina Storni

Men in the City translated from the Spanish by Rachel Benson

Alfonsina Storni was born at sea to Argentine parents who registered her birth in Switzerland. She lived for most of her life in Buenos Aires. Self-supporting from the age of thirteen, she travelled with a theatre company, wrote plays for children, worked as a teacher, a milliner, and a journalist. She had one son. The publication of her first book in 1916 brought immediate recognition, and she was soon accorded the stature of a major poet throughout Latin America. In 1938, incurably ill, she drowned herself in the waters of Mar del Plata.

From the Penguin Book of Women Poets 1978

Friday, 5 April 2013


This water, sad and fearful,
like a child who suffers,
before touching the Earth,
fades away.

Calm the wind, calm the tree -
but in the tremendous silence,
this lean, bitter song
is falling.

The sky is like a heart,
immense, opening up, bitter,
it is not rain; it is a bleeding,
long, and slow.

Men in houses
do not feel this bitterness,
this sad flow of water
out of the heavens.

This long and tiring descent
of conquered water,
towards Earth, recumbent,
and paralysed!

It is raining . . . . and like a tragic jackal
the night watches over the land.
What is going to spring up, in the shadow,
out of Mother Earth?

Will you sleep, while outside
falls suffering, this slow water,
this lethal water, sister
of death?

Gabriela Mistral

translated from the Spanish by Gunda Kaiser and James Tipton

‘Gabriela Mistral’ was the pseudonym of Lucila Godoy Alcayaga who was born in Vicuna, Chile. She received literary acclaim in 1915 with her ‘Sonetos de Muerte’ and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945. She is considered one of the great lyrical geniuses of Spanish letter.

(From the Penguin Book of Women Poets, 1979)

Friday, 29 March 2013


In such a night, when every louder wind
Is to its distant cavern safe confined;
And only gentle Zephyr fans his wings,
And lonely Philomel, still waking, sings;
Or from some tree, famed for the owl’s delight,
She, hollowing clear, directs the wand’rer right:
In such a night, when passing clouds give place,
Or thinly veil the heav’ns’ mysterious face;
When in some river, overhung with green,
The waving moon and the trembling leaves are seen;
When freshened grass now bears itself upright,
And makes cool banks to pleasing rest invite,
Whence springs the woodbind, and the bramble-rose,
And where the sleepy cowslip sheltered grows;
Whilst now a paler hue the foxglove takes,
Yet checquers still with red the dusky brakes
When scatter’d glow-worms, but in twilight fine,
Shew trivial beauties, watch their hour to shine;
Whilst Salisb’ry stands the test of every light,
In perfect charms, and perfect virtue bright:
When odours, which declined repelling day,
Through temp’rate air uninterrupted stray;
When darkened groves their softest shadows wear,
And falling waters we distinctly hear;
When through the gloom more venerable shows
Some ancient fabric, awful in repose,
While sunburnt hills their swarthy looks conceal,
And swelling haycocks thicken up the vale:
When the loosed horse now, as his pasture leads,
Comes slowly grazing through th’ adjoining meads,
Whose stealing pace, and lengthened shade we fear,
Till torn-up forage in his teeth we hear:
When nibbling sheep at large pursue their food,
And unmolested kine rechew the cud;
When curlews cry beneath the village walls,
And to her straggling brood the partridge calls;
Their shortlived jubilee the creatures keep,
Which but endures, whilst tyrant man does sleep;
When a sedate content the spirit feels,
And no fierce light disturbs, whilst it reveals;
But silent musings urge the mind to seek
Something, too high for syllables to speak;
Till the free soul to a composedness charmed,
Finding the elements of rage disarmed,
O’er all below a solemn quiet grown,
Joys in th’ inferior world, and thinks it like her own:
In such a night let me abroad remain,
Till morning breaks, and all’s confused again;
Our cares, our toils, our clamors are renewed,
Or pleasures, seldom reached, again pursued.

Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea

Born near Southampton, she became a maid of honour to mary of Modena, duchess of York. She married in 1684 Heneage Finch, later fifth Earl of Winchilsea, and published during her lifetime a poem,  'The Spleen’ (1701) and a volume of poems (1713).

(The Penguin Book of Women Poets 1978)

Wednesday, 27 March 2013


I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.

I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.

I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.

Anne Sexton

‘Her Kind’ is from Sexton’s collection ‘To Bedlam and Part Way Back’. In July 1959, whilst looking for a keynote poem for the first section of the book, Sexton revisited an old, previously unpublished poem “Night Voice on a Broomstick’. One week and 19 pages of drafts later ‘Her Kind’ was born. From this point on, ‘Her Kind’ became her signature poem, the one with which Sexton began all her alcohol-fuelled poetry readings. (From Poem For The Day Two - Chatto and Windus, London 2005)

From ‘The Selected Poems of Anne Sexton’, Virago Press, reprinted 1993

Monday, 18 March 2013

Don’t Give Me The Whole Truth

Don’t give me the whole truth,
don’t give me the sea for my thirst,
don’t give me the sky when I ask for light,
but give me a glint, a dewy wisp, a mote
as the birds bear water-drops from their bathing
and the wind a grain of salt.

Olav H Hauge
lived all his life in Ulvik, a village in the west of Norway on the Hardangerfjord. He translated many English and American writers into Norwegian.

‘Don’t Give Me The Whole Truth’ was translated from the Norwegian by Robin Fulton

from the anthology ‘Being Human’,
the companion anthology to ‘Being Alive’ and ‘Staying Alive’
edited by Neil Astley
Bloodaxe Books

Monday, 11 March 2013

Pre-Breakfast Rant

Andrew Greig

Dull, dull hungry cloth-head dullard! Each day
I’m dull, even this ache is dull (though fatal). Each night
I climb on my lover and we ride
nowhere we haven’t been before.
Dull the knife, dull the mirror,
dull each pane of glass around us.
Nothing here is sharp, clear or dangerous,
and even you, my blood’s sugar,
have plummeted, disgusted, out of focus.
Let me stand at the window once more and stare
till the world’s no longer out there.

True world, where are you hiding? Whose crime
makes you hide so? Is it the light yet murderous
force of habit, settling like grime on the mirror,
that lets you slip away? Yes,
the world is hid behind itself, smirking slightly,
as though we’re in a murder mystery
where the killer and the clue are right in this room
and we’re looking (for God’s sake, they can be nowhere else!)
and we can see nothing, so well is everything hidden
as itself. The way I looked at you last night on the floor
and could not see what I saw before…

Open up, true world! I’m banging on
your pane that you might part
or shower down daggers to cut me to ribbons.
I can bear anything but this dull that I am,
unburnished, non-reflective, stupefied, numb!
This cloth I’ve somehow spread over the world —
when I turn back from the kettle,
may it be whipped away: reveal again
the morning laid out like a shining breakfast table
with as many places as there are appetites
for this day about to — truly — begin.

Andrew Greig

(born September 23, 1951 in Bannockburn) is a Scottish writer. He studied philosophy at the University of Edinburgh and is a former Glasgow University Writing Fellow and Scottish Arts Council Scottish/Canadian Exchange Fellow. He lives in Orkney and Edinburgh and is married to author Lesley Glaister.

From the anthology Being Alive
the sequel to Staying Alive,
edited by Neil Astley
Bloodaxe Books

Saturday, 2 March 2013


I couldn’t tell one song from another,
which bird said what or to whom or for what reason.

The oak tree seemed to be writing something using very few words.
I couldn’t decide which door to open - they looked the same, or what

would happen when I did reach and turn a knob. I thought I was
safe, standing there
but my death remembered its date:

only so many summer nights still stood before me, full moon, waning
moon, October mornings: what to make of them? which door?

I couldn’t tell which stars were which or how far away any of them
was, or which were still burning or not - their light moving through
space like a long

late train - and I’ve lived on the earth so long - 50 winters, 50 springs
and summers,
and all this time stars in the sky - in daylight

when I couldn’t see them, and at night when, most nights I didn’t look.

Marie Howe

from ‘Being Human’, the companion anthology to
‘Staying Alive’ and ‘Being Alive’, edited by Neil Astley

Wednesday, 27 February 2013


 Rainer Maria Rilke painted by Paula Modersohn-Becker in 1906

School’s long anxiety and time slips past
with waiting, in endless dreary things.
O solitude, O heavy spending on and on of time . . . 
And then outside: the streets flash and ring
and on the squares the fountains leap
and the world becomes boundless in the gardens.
And to walk through it all in one’s small suit,
so unlike the way others walked and sauntered - ;
O wondrous time, O spending on and on of time,
O solitude.

And to look far off into it all:
men and women, men, more men, women
and then children, who are different and bright;
and here a house and now and then a dog
and fear changing places soundlessly with trust - ;
O sadness without cause, ,O dream, O dread,
O endless depth.

And so to play: ball and hoop and handstands
in a garden that keeps softly fading,
and to collide sometimes against grownups
blindly and wildly in the rush of tag,
but at evening quietly, with small stiff steps
to walk back home, your hand firmly held - ;
O ever more escaping grasp of things,
O weight, O fear.

And for hours at the big gray pond
to kneel entranced with a small sailboat;
to neglect it, because other, identical yet
more beautiful sails glide through the rings,
and to have to think about the small pale face
that sinking gazed back out of the pond - ;
O childhood, O likeness gliding off . . . 
Where? Where?

Rainer Maria Rilke
translated from the German by Edward Snow

from 'Being Human’, the companion anthology to
‘Staying Alive’ and 'Being Alive’ edited by Neil Astley.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013


The Garden Of Eden - Michelangelo

Call yourself alive? Look, I promise you
that for the first time you’ll feel your pores opening
like a fish mouth, and you’ll actually be able to hear
your blood surging through all those lanes,
and you’ll feel light gliding across the cornea
like the train of a dress. For the first time
you’ll be aware of gravity
like a thorn in your heel,
and your shoulder blades will ache for want of wings.
Call yourself alive ? I promise you
you’ll be deafened by the sound of dust falling on furniture,
you’ll feel your eyebrows turning to two gashes,
and every memory you have - will begin
at Genesis.

Nina Cassian
1924 -

translated from the Romanian by Brenda Walker and Andrea Deletant

The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry

Sunday, 3 February 2013

WINTER From The Life Of Love

Come close to me, oh companion of my full life;
Come close to me and let not Winter's touch
Enter between us. Sit by me before the hearth,
For fire is the only fruit of Winter.

Speak to me of the glory of your heart, for
That is greater than the shrieking elements
Beyond our door.
Bind the door and seal the transoms, for the
Angry countenance of the heaven depresses my
Spirit, and the face of our snow-laden fields
Makes my soul cry.

Feed the lamp with oil and let it not dim, and
Place it by you, so I can read with tears what
Your life with me has written upon your face.

Bring Autumn's wine. Let us drink and sing the
Song of remembrance to Spring's carefree sowing,
And Summer's watchful tending, and Autumn's
Reward in harvest.

Come close to me, oh beloved of my soul; the
Fire is cooling and fleeing under the ashes.
Embrace me, for I fear loneliness; the lamp is
Dim, and the wine which we pressed is closing
Our eyes. Let us look upon each other before
They are shut.
Find me with your arms and embrace me; let
Slumber then embrace our souls as one.
Kiss me, my beloved, for Winter has stolen
All but our moving lips.

You are close by me, My Forever.
How deep and wide will be the ocean of Slumber,
And how recent was the dawn!

Khalil Gibran

Friday, 25 January 2013


Vernon Scannell on BBC Desert Island Discs in 1987

In the warm room, cushioned by comfort,
Idle at fireside, shawled in lamplight,
I know the cold winter night, but only
As a far intimation, like a memory
Of a dead distress whose ghost has grown genial.

The disc, glossy black as a conjuror’s hat,
Revolves. Music is unwound: woodwind,
Strings, a tenor voice singing in a tongue
I do not comprehend or have need to -
‘The instrument of egoism mastered by art’ -

For what I listen to is unequivocal:
A distillation of romantic love,
Passion outsoaring speech. I understand
And, understanding, I rejoice in my condition;
This sweet accident of being here and human.

Later, as I lie in the dark, the echoes
Recede, the blind cat of sleep purrs close
But does not curl. Beyond the window
The hill is hunched under his grey cape
Like a watchman. I cannot hear his breathing.

Silence is a starless sky on the ceiling
Till shock slashes, stillness is gashed
By a dazzle of noise chilling the air
Like lightning. It is an animal screech,
Raucous, clawing; surely the language of terror.

But I misread it, deceived. It is the sound
Of passionate love, a vixen’s mating call.
It lingers hurtful, a stink in the ear,
But soon it begins to fade. I breathe deep,
Feeling the startled fur settle and smoth. Then I sleep.

Vernon Scannell

From the Poetry Anthology Being Human,
third in the poetry series edited by Neil Astley,
as reviewed in The Guardian on May 14th, 2011


Out of us all
That make rhymes, 
Will you choose
Sometimes -
As the winds use 
A crack in a wall
Or a drain,
Their joy or their pain
To whistle through -
Choose me.
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 of Midsummer;
Strange as the races
Of dead and unborn;
Strange and sweet
And familiar,
To the eye,
As the dearest faces
That a man knows,
And as lost homes are;
Than oldest yew, -
As our hills are, old, -
Worn new 
Again and again;
Young as our streams 
After rain;
And as dear
As the earth which you prove
That we love.

Make me content 
With some sweetness
From Wales
Whose nightingales
Have no wings, -
From Wiltshire and Kent,
And Herefordshire, 
And the villages there, -
From the names, and the things
No less.
Let me sometimes dance
With you,
Or climb
Or stand perchance
In ecstasy,
Fixed and free
In a rhyme,
As poets do.

Edward Thomas

Wednesday, 16 January 2013


Juan Ramon Jimenez

I have a feeling that my boat
has struck, down there in the depths,
against a great thing.

And nothing
happened! Nothing . . . Silence . . . Waves . . .

- Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
and are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?

Juan Ramon Jimenez 

Oceans -  translated from the Spanish by Robert Bly
The  Ecco Anthology of International Poetry

Juan Ramón Jiménez Mantecón was a Spanish poet, a prolific writer who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1956. One of Jiménez's most important contributions to modern poetry was his advocacy of the French concept of "pure poetry.”

Saturday, 12 January 2013


Gottfried Benn

Someone hands you an English thriller,
highly recommended.
You don’t read English.

You’ve worked up a thirst
for something you can’t afford.

You have deep insights,
brand new and they sound
like an academic glossing Hoelderlin.

You hear the waves at night
ramping against the shore
and you think: that’s what waves do.

Worse: you’re asked out
when at home you get better coffee,
silence, and you don’t expect to be amused.

Awful: not to die in summer
under a bright sky
when the rich dirt
falls easily from the shovel.

Gottfried Benn
German  expressionist poet, essayist and novelist

“This Is Bad’ translated from the German by Harvey Shapiro

From the ECCO Anthology of International Poetry.