THE HILLSIDE GRAVE AT ABERFAN
written in October 1966
On October 16th 1966 a coal tip slid onto the Weslsh village of Aberfan engulfing the primary school
thereby killing 144 people, 116 of them children.
The flowers of love that marked our valley's sorrow
Their petals spill.
We heard your tears, the day we took tomorrow
Into the hill.
Mothers, we felt your hearts' destroying midnight
Empty and chill
Fathers, unwillingly we snatched your sunlight
Into the hill.
But though the mountainside with grief was ringing
We were tranquil;
There was a love that sent your children singing
Into the hill
So, when your tears like tangled wools unravel
Tidy and still
And comes the day when you in turn must travel
Into the hill
Oh, do not shrink from death - he is an ally,
Love does not kill.
Come smiling, for there is another valley
Beyond the hill.
AUTO DA FE
Written at Broadfield House in Sussex (which had a kitchen garden) years after her father's death in September 1964
but referring back to a last visit to him at hospital in the early 1950s.
As a single man he had been involved in a scandalous love
affair circa 1920
during which he eloped with the wife of the Earl of Birkenhead.
His later marriage to another woman, Rachel's mother, ended in
divorce, possibly connected
to the discovery of these letters re-igniting her concerns over this earlier dalliance.
Divorce was highly
unusual in those times and this left
a lasting impression on Rachel who was 15 at the time of the
divorce. Note the use of the
the word 'gayer' which is used here in its pre-1970s meaning and
has no homosexual connotation.
"Make a bonfire of them, darling,"
You said, and at the feet of death you smiled.
"Take them into the garden and burn them - the letters
That should be forgotten. All the love letters".
Then your eyes were laughing,
Laughing at death and at me like a naughty child.
So here is the bonfire, with the smoke rising
Here in the kitchen garden with no-one to see,
I am burning your letters, and feeling again
The incomprehension, the love and the envy
Of a life so lighthearted, lightheaded and free.
What can I do but envy and love you
And never understand?
What can I know and others like me,
All the rest of my worthy band
Of the light and the laughter, the thrills?
For I am one of the solid, so-trustworthy ones
Who worry about the laundry:
The ones who pay the bills.
The ones who burn the love letters written to others
And make a bonfire of a brighter, gayer life,
Watching the smoke rise, sadly and alone.
The ones who are trusted to tidy the room
When the smiling guests have gone.
Rachel was moved from school to school around Europe in
the pre-war years
as her mother travelled around the major cities singing for a
and enjoying the social scene. As a result Rachel became fluent
in French and German
but the downside was a very unsettled childhood not helped by
being useless at physical games due to a poor physique. Her
intelligence and language skills meant that she later worked in Churhchill's wartime bunker under
for the secret service during the war. She always claimed to
Churchill the cipher informing him that the Bismarck had been
Rachel suffered from bad health throughout her life and required
19 operations in total.
She was in hospital when this poem was written. Her pre-operative mood can best be guessed at by
the following anecdote which was published by the Sunday Times magazine in October 1975 in an
article on Georgette Heyer written by A.S. Byatt with the co-operation of Heyer's husband Ronald Rougier.
It refers to a moving tribute "sent to Ronald Rougier after his wife's death. In this Rachel Law points out that Georgette Heyer
remains readable even when one is in hospital beds awaiting drastic surgery. Shakespeare slips away, she says: pornography, at the other end, is
no good because "sex is cut down to size when the swish of the scythe sends a draught down the
corridors". But Georgette Heyer's comedy, archetypal, external, has a kind of earthy vigour which is sustaining. This is something I have found to be true myself..."
ON HEARING A GALE FORCE WIND ON THE 15TH FLOOR OF THE CHARING CROSS HOSPITAL
To go out onto the wind,
The whirling, whistling wind?
To leave behind
The mind, the tortured mind?
Send the poor mind
Out on the cruel northern
Cold and unrelenting wind?
Blow sick and dust-infested matter
Into cool freedom...?
"Oh, what a wind!
Oh, What a dreadful wind!" So say the happy ones.
The others, who like prisoners lie
Alone, afraid, condemned:
The ones who sigh
Because they dare not weep;
Oh yes, for them the wind
The bitter, biting, blowing winds
That tears away their flesh -
For them that wind
That cruel catching wind
The following 7 poems were grouped by Rachel Law under the heading "Voyages"
Rachel suffered from anxiety and depression throughout much of her adult life. Soneryl has now been discontinued
in the UK. It was designed to relax and assist sleep.
Take two Soneryls, as necessary.
As required, take two.
Take two at night.
At night. Oh yes, at night, required and necessary.
Take two Soneryls.
Two for despair.
Two for fear.
Two for anger and terror at the world.
Two for the love that burns like acid eating me away
Rat-nibbling the edges of my identity.
Take two Soneryls, Soneryls, Soneryls
Little pink, cheerful pink pills.
Little pink barricade,
Against the Indians of the night.
Against the tomahawks, the fiery arrows
And the cries, the cries
Of murdered children.
See how I crouch under my mind’s stockade
Safe in Fort Soneryl for another night.
They should pin a medal on you, Soneryl,
For services to cowards and to the sick at heart
Who dare not ride out onto that dark plain,
That wider range that we block out with seeing, hearing, eating
Running to and fro, sucking up daylight as our baby’s bottle.
So brave in the morning,
But knowing night must come.
How I should like to be a cowboy in a western
Fearless, always right, complacent with that self-confidence
That courage gives
Even to fatuous fools.
Instead of oh, so highly-strung, sensitive
Give it any name
Give it any pretty name you like
But not say it -
So terribly afraid
That every night is death.
But instead I take two
But they are necessary
The 'theatre' referred to in the poem below is, obviously, an operating theatre.
Oh the lights are hot and white and beating down
In the swaying sickness,
Before the final prick.
Why do I think hazily of a Greek play
In some hot amphitheatre of Mediterranean warmth?
Is it their gowns, all green
All alike, anonymous
Their bending, turning, busy figures,
Unhurried and certain of their roles?
Or those heavy boots?
The boots of high tragedy, sorrow’s high theatre boots
Hosed down with Dettol?
Even their hands are gloved and covered
There is nothing raw or human,
All is theatre, all is masked.
Sway, sway into the high drama
Of the theatre play,
Dipping and nodding
But still speaking
And the dumb choruses on the edge of the stage,
Obedient underlings, stand patiently waiting.
Porters and trolleys
Ready and waiting to wheel a dead actor away
Off the stage
Into another play.
Scratch, screw, roar
Black waves rushing
Hot, sharp acid-pointed
The onslaught comes
Beats against me,
Only the drain
The clawing greedy hands
The dreadful noise
Rachel had 19 operations including some major ones. On one occasion she was
prescribed heroin as a post-operative painkiller. She did not use prohibited drugs.
One needle prick, then peace,
Turbulence quieted. water settling into calm.
But so quickly,
The strong one, the really strong one
Padding its power-packed silent way
Through the squashed pea-pod of the twisted flesh
Pounding its peace, propitiation and pardon
Through veins and arteries, passing in purification.
Healer, restorer, one touch of your finger
Brings back whole newness, youth’s health, long-forgot ease
To old minds in old bodies
Old sores on old carcasses.
Sealed up; and the flesh at last closed up,
The worn spirit liberated.
In one moment all, all, forgotten
The long years of slow dying, long lingering, patching up.
Pouring at last the whole essence
Back into the mould, to be newborn
In just a few seconds from now,
Because all is stopped.
Held, in the strong, sealing second
Of body’s perfection
Of spirit’s release.
Held, then in happy awaiting of that new tomorrow
The torn body settles
At last into sleep.
Fasten me down
Batten me down
Under the hatches
Of the bin.
Pad out the walls
And strap down the limbs
Flatten out the raging spirit
Squeeze out the fatty flesh
Turned to madness
Into the ordered quiet
Of the bin.
No-one gives any trouble
In the bin.
No trouble, like a fluttering bird
Might suddenly cause,
Starting flapping confusion
As it took wing.
But no-one takes off here,
Flies or falls.
This is the limbo
Where the hurts of nature
Are outside the walls
And tears and love and pain are all outside
Shut out, clamouring to get in.
But no-one hears,
Because the walls
Are safe and thick and padded
In the bin.
Faces and eyes turned inwards
Or to the wall,
Or rolling wildly round
Lost, lost and looking
Searching for the past perhaps
Against the torture-straps that the present,
The cruel communal present
Has fastened about them.
Only the eyes bear their record
Of the grey day’s lengthening
From early tea – sugar, dear? – clatter
Through the dull wastes of afternoon
And still at night, under the dimmed bulbs, staring
Through the green darkened ward
Following the dipping and bobbing
Of Night Sister’s torch
Eyes looking, always looking
Even in sleep, under the veined eyelids, looking
At death, perhaps.
Looking at the end,
Or looking at some beginning
That is stirring and blowing
The cubicle curtains.
But never looking
Never, never looking
Down to the end of the bed, to the legs, to the feet
That will never touch a floor, any floor, again.
You have to come by tube now
Or by bus
In your own clothes
Once a month.
Then stand at a desk-window
With your card,
And there is tea or coffee and a packet of crisps
While you are waiting, while you are waiting
To be seen.
O how long ago it is, for the outcasts to remember
How safe and quiet it was in Eden,
In that innocent, white, cosseted garden of Eden,
Of the in, the in, the in-patients,
The womb-children of the earth.
The sheltered, shuttered, curtained-off ones
The ones on the inside.
The inner-circle travellers in soft plush-velvet seats
Propelled along the warmly heated inner line
How cold and harsh it is to be an out-patient,
Standing at the little reception-office of the world.
No longer one of the inner cherished ones
But cast off, cast out, out, out-patient, out -
But come back once a month
For your little bit of cheer, of comfort
In the remembered arms that once cradled and cared for you
All day and every day.
Riots, fears, suicides, mobs, glass-splintered pavements
But we have to walk through them,
Travel through the thorny-spiked world forest
In our own clothes,
Our outdoor clothes
By bus or tube
For a little outer-edge of comfort
Once a month.
A LOVELY FUNERAL
When I die then carry me down
To the woods at evening and dig a shallow grave.
Slide me into loose soil
Let it pour over my arms and legs, into my nose and eyes.
A shallow grave, a dog's grave, keep for me
Somewhere in the woods away from houses, churches, hymns
Caskets and coffins, prayer-books and gloves.
Let me go back quickly into the earth.
And under the trees
When you have buried me and gone
Back to the fire and supper, I shall wait
Unknowing and uncaring and at peace
At last. At rest but not alone.
For they will come, in the next days and weeks,
The little teeth, the sharp and furtive eyes,
The scratching claws, the pecking beaks,
The hungry woodland children,
The rustlers of the bracken and the leaves.
The scuttering, quicksilver movers.
But always there; and when I walked in life
My only friends.
The unreproachful ones who asked me nothing, never knew my name
Or that there were names, and duty, tensions and identity
Self-conscious doubts and guilt.
Who were content to be. To eat, to sleep, to mate,
To kill and feed their young.
Whose lives were short and cruel
And often hungry,
But yet deep.
Deep with the sea's depth,
Dark and continuing.
Yes they will come, and I will welcome them to feed on me.
For in my life I fed on them
Sometimes in flesh and every day in spirit.
In repose and sanity
I fed on them, and used them, though they did not think or care
Who I was, what I was, even that I was there.
It is enough for friendship, that,
Friendship and soul's release;
To be accepted and unnoticed
As the clumsy human body crashes through the woods
Torn by the anxious brain, whipped by the nerves.
It is enough, that they have let me pass
And not avoided me, nor yet approached
But le me be.
So let them feed on me.
These little briefdestructive lives
Let them have plenty: For one short day at least
Have bellies full.
I shall increase
As I am spread about the woods
In earth, in hole, in nest.
In sleekened fur
And fattened young.
In a crow's call,
Exhilerated, full of power
From feasting on my eyes,
I shall hear a sharper psalm
Than human descants.
For now my debts are paid.
The eyes that watched me when I walked afraid
And in despair about the woods
Close to me now,
Peering into my grave,
Taking me up, away with them.
I am a part
Of life at last.
And at peace.
So take me down when the day comes
And do not grieve,
But fork over the soft earth
Mixed with leaves.
Quietly treading, padding across floors, the silent feet,
Echoes of soundless steps, ring on my heart
Flick on my nerves, throb in my listening brain.
I hear the shuffle of the silent feet,
Feet that move across and up and down
And to and fro, climbing the stoic stairs
That do not creak under that weightless weight
That presses. Noiseless noise, light heaviness
Throbbing and thundering as an army’s tramp,
Feet crowd and hammer, hammer, stamp and pound
But not a feather or a crumb or speck of dust
Is moved or stirred by feet, by dinning feet.
THE NEW ARRIVALS (Written August 1964)
“Well, of course dear, it’s lovely here in Heaven,
I mean, being warm, and nothing much to do,
And not being tired.....
I went out to the Islands of the Blest the other day.
My Angel took me; you know, the one who checked us in
The day we came? Oh, it’s a lovely trip
But really, dear, I know it’s peaceful there
And all the people too
So beautiful and white – and all so young.
So blasted young!
They beckoned to me, laughing, calling,
Smiling at me, singing their endless praise
Of beauty, and how lovely life was -
Yes! On earth! How they remember always
Laughter and wine and song.
One of them called to me to sing,
To tell them of my own best memory
Of earth, but I just couldn’t, dear.
How could I tell them, beautiful and free
That my day of memory held no sun?
Held no laughter, heard no singing,
Held only tears and work and then more tears till evening?
How could I tell them, when they were all so young?
I had a cold that day, I remember -
Or perhaps it was ‘flu coming on,
I felt ill enough – and it was so cold.
Charlie, (well, he was only three) was crying all day
And his nose running, and cough, cough, cough.
Then Bert came home drunk, (nothing new, but the last straw)
And nothing was ready and I had my work to do,
My part-time, make-ends-meet sewing,
Twelve hours’ work to be done in four.....
So I sat and sewed through the night, stiff and frozen
Working and crying and working and still there was more,
Always more work, till at last it was finished.
I had pitted myself against illness and sadness and lack and I’d won!
Too stiff to fold up my work, I laid
My head on my hands and slept
On the table top, there in the icy room.
And that was the day I remembered
There in the ease and the sun!
I was alive that day! But no-one
Would understand, except one
Chap who came up and chatted
To me. Well, you could see
He’d been through the mill himself, poor fellow.
You know? He’s the only one here I’ve seen
With lines on his face? Well, we had quite a long talk, dear
And he cheered me up somehow.
I felt more at home than I have since I came here,
Not so alone, if you know what I mean?
Then he walked away and I turned round to look for my Angel
And – isn’t it queer? – the Angel was lying flat on his face
Stretched out at the feet of this chap as he walked away!
I couldn’t make it out, dear, but I didn’t like to say
Anything then, though I still can’t understand.....
But then, I don’t really understand anything here.”
BRED FOR RESEARCH
Take me round the lab.
Give me torture’s package tour,
Of jet set, first-class pain.
Career me round the cages
Airborne on bloodstained wings.
This broken-feathered Caravelle
Flies fast round hell.
That you have clawed and gathered round you
Like a crab.
How bright and keen
Your cold eyes gleam
Behind the spectacles that never mist,
That never mist, that never blur
At twisted paws
Or blood-streaked fur,
But look out clear
Without one tear.
“Bred for research,” you say, “all bred for research,”
As we go round
Your little kingdom
Of the damned.
“Bred for research.” And then you smile
So patronisingly, so sure, so cold
So heedless of the suffering, bred, bought and sold
To you, to cut and maim
In sacred science’s name.
No rights, no part in nature,
Your raw material.
Helpless, caught and caged.
Within their mother’s wombs,
Before their first breath
Bred for research.
But keep your white coat laundered,
And wrap it round you tightly;
For a wind
Blows cold around the lab.
And you grow old.
Till one day with a sigh
You hang it up behind the door
For the last time.
Your turn to die
Then as the souls of murdered creatures sing
And fill the lab with light
And as the cages empty
And the pain-fog clears,
Then you feel old
And for the first time fear’s
Slides into yours.
Your spectacles are broken now
And in your shirtsleeves you are thin and poor,
Not a good specimen, but never mind, for there are more
Yes, plenty more where you came from
Waiting and ready to be born,
To fill the lab again
With rediscovered, recreated pain.
So crawl away and die
In vain for mercy to God’s sky.
Love heals your victims’ wounds
And every torn
And trembling form
Is whole again and cherished.
But for you
The cage forever.
And who will care?
For you were bred
Only for pain and death.
Bred for a nightmare,
Bred for research.
SONNETs to Delphi
Rachel Law wrote 200 Sonnets to Delphi over several years following a trip to the site of the Delphic Oracle in 1962.
At the site she had made an invocation to the Oracle to be able to write good, and so therefore publishable, poetry.
Before that day she said she could not write what she considered good poetry although she did write a few brief poems
from the age of 10 in 1934 through to 1943 when she was 18. She wrote nothing after that until the trip to Delphi.
This wish was 'answered' in a very strict sense as many notable poets of the time commended her work.
However worthy of publication does not mean will be published during one's lifetime and these poems never were.
This caused her great suffering and probably contributed to her untimely death.
Be careful what you wish for at the Delphic Oracle!
Say of me only that I love my love.
Say that I lie in all but not in this.
Say that I seek proved errors to disprove
Say that I calculate before I kiss.
Say I am shallow as some shrugging youth,
Say that like him from vanity I smile,
Say I love flattery but not the truth,
Say that my wit is small though laced with guile.
Say I'm a shadow on a fairground sheet,
Say I'm a cardboard copy of a soul,
Say fashion's scissors cut my features neat,
Say I am wholly false though falsely whole.
Say I am dust; then if I meekly die
Say my sweet love within my arms may lie.
I loved you earliest when I knew you not,
When in uncharted country we did dwell
That comes with silence and the world forgot,
Where all may visit; though few travelers tell.
Stepping inside those portals of my mind
I strode out boldly in that halcyon land,
Through forests never flurried by a wind
Where nature lies asleep and stays her hand.
In airy lightness other spirits fair
In silence walked beside me on my way,
And then a darkness and cloud of hair
Seemed for an instant to obscure the day.
You passed me, then you turned your head and smiled.
I followed, follow still, by love beguiled.
The years before I knew you I recall,
Far off they seem, as on some distant shore.
Yet only twice we’ve watched the autumn’s fall
Of yellow leaves upon the forest floor,
Twice seen the snow, and now three times the spring
Has circled us together in her arm.
Safe in the magic of her fairy ring
Time’s clock is stilled by love’s specific charm.
We linger like two spirits before birth
In those translucent islands of the young
Where there’s no sorrow, but return to earth,
For flowers sent to bloom in farmyard dung.
Discarnate, disembodied, let us dwell
Screened from life’s dust under love’s potent spell.
I see you the first morning that we met
Bright as a rainbow bursting on my sight.
Sharp pink the orchard trees in neat squares set
Their blossoms sprung to life as you to light.
Blue was your gaze and cloudless as the sky,
I looked but once and could not look again
Till I had brushed my beauty-dazzled eye
With one swift tear to cool love’s blinding pain.
I hear your voice as then I heard it first
Soft as the breeze that sighed along the air,
Clear as the brook that cooled the rushes’ thirst,
Still sweet with spring though now the trees are bare.
You sparkle still through winter’s coldness cruel
Fastened in nature’s setting like a jewel.
I hear your voice in silence ringing clear
In the sky’s emptyness I see your face.
When I am most alone I feel you near
And when I walk your feet beside me pace.
So strong your spirit and so fast your spell
That where you are not seen you most are there;
Your beauty breaks the fragile body’s shell
And fills my world as easily as air.
Diffuse, untrammelled, effortless and free
Perfect as new-burst roses at their birth,
You laugh at time and space to conquer me,
So fair your essence it transcends mere earth.
But when tired flesh surrenders beauty’s dower
Sigh for the body’s grace that gave such power.
A cloud has hidden my bright mid-day sun
That shone a moment since with golden glow.
Malignant breezes through the rushes run
Along the lake, where but a while ago
We walked in lazy warmth, and at our feet
The waters made a mirror for your face
Which stared in tranquil beauty back to meet
The blue and gold perfection of your grace,
Earth’s dazzling prototype of water’s art.
Sunlit, serene, unwavering your stare
Upon yourself, as who would read a chart
Of his own life’s adventure written there.
What saw you in that face to make you fly
Weeping away, leaving a leaden sky?
A moment’s parting is an age of pain,
Your second’s absence seems eternal death.
My heart is broken to love’s silken rein,
Riderless freedom would dissolve my breath.
Once, brave and wild, light as the wind I raced
Back to the first bright morning of the world.
I saw the dawn on Eden, clear and chaste.
Freedom and joy like clouds around me swirled.
Call back beginning, birth and innocence!
Return, return, unstained, immortal hour
Before my back was straddled by love’s sense.
When still untamed I galloped in my power.
Yet lift those hands that hold my heard in check
And love’s loss flicks its whip across my neck.
My dreams of you are clearer than my day.
Sleep’s moving shadows shift your changeless face.
When I awake the brightest sky seems grey,
A poor sun feebly occupies your place.
Those who have seen the gold can tell the dross
Who touch the diamond’s ice will shrink at glass,
What is the morning but a painter’s gloss?
What is the noon but tedium to pass?
Veiled is your magic with the dust of sleep,
Your voice is deadened under swathes of dreams.
Shunning the light, my evening tryst I keep,
In darkness only my love’s candle gleams.
Awake you goad me with each harsh request,
In sleep I sink reposeful on your breast.
Light draws you to its bosom like a child.
Part of itself in pristine purity.
Clear, charismatic, chaste and undefiled
Eternal radiance, heaven’s surety.
Light sends you forth again renewed in power
Recharged in essence by the mother’s hand,
Clothed in the glow of one celestial hour,
Speaking the language of another land.
Float back to earth, beloved of the sun!
Secrets of heaven shining in your eyes.
Finish in flesh the spirit’s work begun.
In dark earth kindle air-light ecstasies.
If you, sweet apart, bring light that never dies
Man is immortal, all our deaths are lies.
Fasten your lips before they speak a word,
Close tight your eyes and cover up your ears,
Silent and motionless await the sword
That sweeps from heaven to cut short your years.
So, softly stand in stillness like a flower
Poised in the heat-haze of a windless day,
When no leaf trembles in the wooded bower
Where lovers sleep the scented hours away.
If thus suspended, actionless and meek
The enemy may pass, and unaware,
Missing the prey he’s come so far to seek
Withdraw again into his savage lair.
So may you, hart of youth, with bated breath
Softly outwit that cunning hunter death.
Sea-wrack and shells depict the ocean’s line
Marking his limits on the sandy beach.
Sad driftwood and the mermaid’s hair entwine
Themselves into a barrier, lest he reach
I His silvery tongue too far. So he retreats
Yet leaves himself still master of the strand
For in each empty shell his wild heart beats.
His force has fashioned every grain of sand.
So you, engulfing ocean, fill my soul,
In vain my sea-wrack on the shore I spread;
Shell-brittle walls of pride my thoughts console
That, like the ocean, you will halt your tread.
Futile attempt – as the sea’s thunder roars
In every shell, I hear you, I am yours.
Eternal Aprils blossom in your face
Green springtime laughs behind your every smile,
Under you canopy of leafy lace
You lean your arm against the rustic stile.
Enthroned, triumphant, sunshine’s royal mate,
Your kingdom nature and her flowers your crown,
O stay forever, fixed, inanimate,
Bright Primavera out of ages grown.
Smile on within your wooded temple green
Gather the flowers that make the morning sweet,
Spring’s god is never but in springtime seen,
Only the young may worship at youth’s feet.
For you earth’s every blossom in a sheaf.
For me one yellowing October leaf.
The morning grows and ripens into noon
Deep glowing as the crimson cheeks of love.
The swaying grasses sink in velvet swoon
Pressed down by kisses, as the breezes move.
Perfection as a bubble floats intact
Unpierced, descends and moves among each flower.
Closed buds tight clenched against the cold’s impact
Relax and open in a scented shower.
Come with me, walk beneath this smiling heaven
Dye the translucent sky a deeper tone,
Scatter the life of your swift-rising leaven
To swell each seed with breath of love alone.
I never see a morning such as this
But beg you to prolong it with your kiss.
No shadows follow though you walk at noon
Across the dappled acres of the grass,
And when at night you wander with the moon
Dark pools of shade wait breathless till you pass.
You make a stillness in the midst of storm,
You keep the sunlight lingering for an hour
In evening nimbus round your golden form
As though from you he drew his strength and power.
No brambles scratch your hands nor nettles sting,
Unmarked, inviolate, you walk abroad.
One glancing kiss from evening’s mothlike wing
Upon your cheek, would cut it like a sword.
So delicate, so rare your purity
Cruel earth itself bows in timidity.
Swift seconds falter, then more slowly run,
Reluctant to depart your presence sweet.
Sharp minutes lose their pinching grip begun,
Relax their hold and linger at your feet.
Steady the hours in silent ranks advance
Grey and relentless as the northern tide
On leaden days when no white horses prance
Floating the feathers of their spumy pride.
The dreaming days descend upon the hours,
Lighting diurnal candles in your praise;
Holding you throned in rarest of all bowers,
The heart of time itself its beating stays.
Held like the universe upon a pin
You rule transfixed, beyond our bodies’ spin.
Look proudly upwards at the soulless stars
Unflinchingly return their silver gaze;
Galaxied geometry of glittering bars
Frostily dusted by the milky ways.
Dark’s black expanse is shaken into light,
The heavy velvet lifted as a train
Sweeps round the shaded anteroom of night
Into the candled gallery’s golden rain.
See the illumination in the sky,
The firework dazzle of the stellar show,
The powder trails of cloudsmoke as they fly,
The placid set-piece of a planet’s glow.
Your eyes turn to the stars, then to me full,
And I am dazzled and the stars are dull.
Break into sunlight from the forest’s dark
Leaving behind the black and birdless pines.
Escape into light’s freedom, hear the lark,
Forget their vaulted, dim, unending lines.
For in those depths relentless footsteps pad
Cushioned and silent on the needles’ bed,
The softly following wolf, lone, gaunt and sad
Shadows the walker in that place of dread.
Run, quicker, panting, reach the open sky,
Blot out the haunting of primeval fears.
They lurk in darkness, we in sunshine lie;
In lovers’ laughter who remembers tears?
Yet when love’s over and the hour grows late
The old wolf in the forest lies in wait.
Beauty is youth linked with maturity,
Candour’s simplicity compound with guile.
Summer’s abandon, and the purity
Of winter’s coldly enigmatic smile.
When April’s green October’s yellow greets
And swallows flock on blackthorn bushes bare,
When deep-packed polar ice the furnace meets,
The alchemy of beauty’s spell is there.
Let scientific seekers scan your face,
Note the calm forehead yet the blazing eyes,
See passion’s fire across your features race
Until it hears your ice-cold voice, and dies.
Equator’s heat draws down the icy pole.
Opposing magnets lock in beauty’s soul.
I draw the fragile flower of your face
Upon the tautened canvas of my soul
And lovingly your glowing features trace
In smallest detail, till I see the whole
Emblazoned in my core of being, bright
Laughing and brilliant in your colours new.
Fresh from my artist’s brush, filling with light
My mind from which your painted likeness grew.
O perfect is the picture I have drawn,
Yet as I feast upon your face I groan.
Hang beauty in a frame that’s warped and worn?
Who lays a rose upon a slaughter-stone?
Better blot out that your flawless image fine
Than see it framed in such a heart as mine.
Turn, look at me again before we part.
Shine one more beam into this darkening room
Before the curtains fall across my heart
And cold finality seals up this tomb.
Have you no sweetening requiem for the dead?
Nor one small candle from your treasure spare
To spiral upwards in a tenuous thread
Lighting with hope death’s vaulted cavern bare?
You cannot batten me down into dark
While I still live – while I still call your name!
Nor with a heavy foot stamp out the spark
That still remains of our once cherished flame.
Lighten death’s lonely moment with your smile
And in my happy grave I’ll sleep awhile.
How love’s sight points the colours on the rose,
Picks out each petal to its velvet tip;
Sharpened by love, my eye’s awareness grows
Beams kisses on each bud’s half-opened lip.
The voice of love interprets nature’s song,
The heart makes whole each half-remembered tune,
Grasps firm the groping root’s thick fingers strong;
One soul in love can with all earth commune.
Whole vistas shuttered by an eyelid’s droop
Blaze out triumphant when it lifts again.
Sky bends to earth when love’s sweet shoulders stoop,
Mountains erupt when love cries out in pain
Love’s breath on life breathes lustre more intense,
Heaven’s advocate; earths childrens’ extra sense.
Come shine on me, my lovely laughing sun
Burn up the grey, the northern scudding clouds.
Wing me in warmth to where the south winds run
To easier seas and silent windless shrouds.
Burn me, bright sun, under your golden rain,
Dry up my fears, my anxious misted mind.
Reduce me to a point in heaven’s brain
A speck of light in heat’s oblivion kind.
Shine on me, sun, bright god of glowing gold
Fasten your fingers round my frozen heart,
Squeeze out its snow and lead me light and bold
Into the furnace of your searing art.
Lightness and light, my love, leap from your rays
Bathed in your glory my dear sun I praise.
A green fern is my love, spreading in shade
Young tendrils twisting on the dampened earth.
Pale fronded fingers beckon from the glade,
Green tongues surround the massive oak tree’s girth.
Who cries for lilies, lilac or the rose,
For scented flowers in sun’s light-bordered bed?
Who loved the garden yet the dark wood chose,
Whose softened feet the jagged rock paths tread?
O who but I so foolish to forsake
Light summer’s kisses for the cool dark’s lip,
To fear the torments of the morrow’s wake
And fly mortality’s hard noonday grip.
Leave me my shade, my forest and my fern,
I may not blossom but I will not burn.
Fly, shining arrow, through the branches bare
Catch winter’s sunshine on your pointed dart,
Wheel like an eagle through the sparkling air
Then fall, direct and deadly, in the heart.
Well trained my weapon in the search for love,
Cunning and swift, unerring in its flight.
I as a hunter through love’s forest move
Cruel and keen, I track my quarry bright.
Then through the wood I see your form of gold
My arrow flies and I triumph sing,
I see it pierce your heart, and running bold
Approach the prize, the trophy for a king.
You stand unmarked as I in fear retreat,
A bent and broken arrow at your feet.
White burns the icy fire of heaven’s light
In its core clutching all the rainbow’s hues,
Which, purged, refined, dart out again more bright
Fresh from the contact that their strength renews.
So as a ray of light to you I fly
Drawn to my source as colours to the sun.
What If I suffer or in pain I cry?
I must be cleansed and light’s work must be done.
Burn up the dust of passion with your eyes,
Lighten the colours of my heavy heart;
Beat out the dross of soul-corroding lies,
In your fierce wholeness purify this part!
Transmuted, freed, by love’s devouring pain
My soul’s ray surges from its sun again.
What if time past be long and future short?
My days are minted into miser’s gold.
Eternal rhythms rule the seconds’s sport,
Life’s petals smoothly as a flower unfold.
The past is garnered grain within the store
Safe from the flattening tempest, home and dry;
Voices of friends preserved for evermore,
Sweeter in sighing age than infant’s cry.
Man’s mind can tend the garden of his past,
Pick the bright flowers and stamp out all the weeds,
Dread future’s savage country tamed at last
Yields to the traveller food for all his needs.
I can endure your present sneers and guiles,
My kind past showers me with your tender smiles.
I see my past and future in your face.
What was, your fury; what’s to be, your smile.
Each tear falls heavily as past disgrace,
In each glad look bright future’s lures beguile.
In all you are my measure and my span,
Containing me yet all in me contained.
Precise recording of each passing plan,
What will be, promised, and what’s past, retained.
Your hands control my weaving present’s loom.
My poor heart’s bobbins rattle at your spin,
One moment dancing, then dashed down to gloom;
You choose the colours of my fabric thin.
Yet if you set me free to spin alone
Past, present, even future’s hope, are gone.
Show me your smile, so I may feel the sun.
My limbs are shaking from an age of cold.
From you long parted, to your arms I run
Your lost and starving lamb rejoins its fold.
Warm me with kisses, thaw my frozen hands;
I was abandoned, desolate and lost,
Harried by wolves in murderous ravening bands
Roaming black forests that no legions crossed.
Clutched from death’s terror to your beating heart,
From north’s dark pines to southern meadows green,
Safe home at last, oh let us never part,
Let me lie ever in your arms serene.
Freedom from you was endless arctic- waste.
Thankfully back your prisoner’s steps retrace.
To love you is to love the swinging earth,
Our old orb rolling in its ponderous spin.
The only planet burdened with man’s birth
Turns patiently beneath his scratchings thin.
Hard is the crust on wounds that man has cut
And still earth moves, oblivious of her pain.
As new seed fills the flint-pocked farrow’s rut
Slow earth stops up man’s mouth with earth again.
Your love, as earth, love’s gashes fills and heals,
To gold can turn the fleeting gilt I gave.
Night’s mercy noon’s harsh jungle law repeals,
Of womb, awakening, battlefield and grave.
As mother earth among the sterile spheres
So love obliterates her childrens’ tears.
What is all thought but splintered bones of love,
Brittle and broken in the mind’s dry heart?
Life, sprung from love, to arid brain will move
And, self-deceiving, think his end his start.
All form is love’s for in all forms he is.
All art is but his writing in the sand.
Though genius through their shifting surface slides
Love’s magnet draws the sharp diviner’s hand.
All roads that thought has trod by love were laid.
Mind lifts the pediment, love hews the stone.
Darkly in earth’s deep pit mind shrank afraid
Till by love’s light he ventured out alone.
But mind, love’s work forgot, to other minds
Turns for his love and so destruction finds.
Love’s whispered warning tells me to beware,
To walk discreet among each planted thorn.
Black fens stretch trackless past your blue-stoned stare
Lit by false marsh lights through the rushes torn.
Lost and lamenting in this wasted world
I travel slowly life’s deserted land,
Through mists of smiles that for a moment swirled
About my head, till snatched back by your hand.
Yours is the landscape, yours the treacherous road,
Within you all my star-mapped future lies.
Your love gives strength to bear love’s cruel load,
For love I stumble yet through love I rise.
All in your face, the story of my life.
All in your power, my chance of peace or strife.
I treasure all the things your hands have held,
Past objects of your need now in disuse.
Disjointed signs that once love’s message spelled
Yet still coherent of love’s cruel abuse.
I mend your broken toys, I tend each flower
That others gave you and you fling away.
Crushed crying fool, I gather as I cower
My jackal’s meal from your rich lion’s prey.
So do I draw your leavings to my lair
Heaped, hoarded, harboured, hallowed by your fame,
By you defaced, they shine for me more fair,
Torn canvases that bear a master’s name.
For love I cherish what love tore apart;
Humble restorer of your ravaged art.
A white rose falls against your velvet cloak,
Pale as a star upon the edge of night.
Thin briar blossoms trail as wisps of smoke
About your form, as moths surround a light.
Black robed you stand among the roses dim
A patch of midnight in a field of noon.
Sharp set and alien as a cypress slim
Points proudly in the tangled brushwood’s bloom.
Your hair dark velvet, a white rose your face,
You make a mockery of blue and gold.
Black coals that glitter with a haunted grace,
Your eyes burn up the day, and earth is old.
Beauty was sunshine and the summer’s spell
Till on the grass your inky shadow fell.
What can love give but love, and that was given
Long ages since, when love and I were young.
See how love strives against time’s snowbank driven,
See how love sings when all my songs are sung.
Tomorrow’s love from yesterday’s took birth,
Blazed for a while today, then flickered on.
Nothing is new upon this rolling earth,
Our love inherited from lovers gone.
Dead lovers, sleep, and we will dream your dreams,
While you rest easy we will kiss and weep.
On your deserted hearth the fire still gleams
And in new flames your ancient laughters leap.
Love given once never to dust returns.
In my love’s look some long-dead lover’s burns.
Come quiet love, into my room of pain,
Slide like a shadow through the prisoning door.
Bright primavera sheathed in sun and rain,
Dissolve the ice on suffering’s hard-packed floor.
Come quiet love, and heap upon my bed
The flowers that died last year and now bloom new;
Crushed by the spikes of winter’s booted tread
At one green touch they rose again for you.
Come quiet love, and press my aching hand,
Grant me another spring before I die.
Pass over me your charm-dipped hazel wand,
Release my pinioned wings and let me fly.
Come quiet love, I have endured so long.
Come, peace and stillness, come, my summer song.
Brief lives are lengthened by their mourners’ tears.
Love’s lamentations warm the graves of youth.
The short spanned shadow stretches with the years,
Death’s cut but carves a sculpted form of truth.
Perfect the pictures rising from their tomb,
Young as the flowers, eternal as the earth,
Washed in the waters of their second womb,
Cherished, they wait upon the point of birth.
More brightly living than our greying mass,
More vivid in their death than we in life,
What if they pressed no footprints on the grass?
They left a trail of peace across our strife.
If you would join them I will grieve content.
Heaven’s messengers to earth are briefly sent.
Your silvery laughter beats against my brain,
Your glancing smile flicks round me like a whip
Of knotted brightness circling me with pain
But worst of all your eyes, in partnership
They stare, two twins of torment, blue and bright
Brilliant as polished jewels harder than stone,
Blinding, destroying, worse than any night
Of darkest anguish frightened and alone
Is this morning encounter with my sun.
Throw me the mercy of a little shade
And turn your face until your rage be done!
Beauty in anger stifles good at birth
Drawing dull desolation on the earth.
Why in your absence do I find no peace
When in your presence I am so unblest?
They prophesied my agonies would cease
Were I alone, away from you, at rest.
I think they never knew love’s slavery
So lightly to dismiss it as a dream
That lancing daylight’s flash of bravery
Would vanquish as the sun the moon’s pale beam.
O fools to scorn the power of the night!
To trust in morning thoughts when daylight fades!
As darkness every evening swamps the light
So love on my mind’s room draws down the shades.
In vain to ease the victim off the rack.
He’ll never lose the torments at his back.
Catch the west wind! Open your hands and see
If all that rush of moving breath will lie
Meek as a baby sleeping peacefully
Within your arms, protected from the sky.
Fasten the river’s mouth in the green hills,
Cut off the silver tongue that gently licks
Against the fields, the willows, till it spills
In froth and laughing torrent on to sticks
Of black and splintered rock, against the sea.
Stop wind and running water if you can,
Shout out your powers, your hellish mastery
Colossus of the air! Rule for your span
In happy dreams of power, until you wake
To rub your aching eyes with hands that shake.
So laugh your way along the road to death
Careless as ever of the pain you give.
Go mocking with your last expiring breath
The one who loves you and is left to live
In winter’s grief, whose snows will never melt
Now you, the spring, are passed into the dark,
But in re-living every passion felt
Wears sorrow on his forehead like a mark
Of bondage. He will always be your slave,
You will not lightly let your captive go.
Nor will you long lie lonely in your grave
But draw him down into your arms below.
From tortured life to restless death you’ll move
The pawn in your eternal game of love.
Go plait your golden hair about your face,
Smoothly arrange the angles of your smile.
Brush from your forehead all emotion’s trace,
Empty your eyes of their deep-seated guile.
Stand up before your critics like a child,
Wrap yourself round in long-lost innocence;
Slough off the weary load of sins compiled
In volumes through the years’ intransigence.
Disown your past, your inner self, your soul
That lies within you damaged, cracked and soiled.
Your face is still perfection’s surface whole,
Flawless and gleaming, glowing and unspoiled.
On rotten wood you’ve laid a fine veneer
And never burnt its varnish with a tear.
In every waking moment of my sense
My ant-like troops of thoughts serve your demands,
Busily working without recompense,
Midgets to execute the giant’s commands.
Black undertakers of relentless toil,
Each tiny slave unthinking service gives
Until he sinks exhausted in the soil
To die content because his master lives.
But you, bright ruler of these legions lost
Drawn from dark night to serve you in the sun,
Remember age with his first shrivelling frost
Will rout your empire’s power in youth begun.
A new Apollo in the sky will ride
And you among the ants will serve his pride.
Look down upon the pebbles at your feet,
Broodingly gaze upon the glistening stones
And see them crack and crumble in retreat
Before those eyes that pierce my sundering bones.
Blue as the heavens, cruel as the sea,
Cold as the white winged seagull’s beady stare,
Your eyes call nature to chill harmony,
Sea, stones and sky your servants unaware.
In flat subservience the thin wave curls
Soft creeping from coiled seaweed on the sand.
Salt-sweating shingles glittering like pearls
Spread out their sad mosaic on the strand.
I with all nature cringe beneath your sway,
But we will dance when you have turned away.
My tears are frozen and as snowflakes fall,
Sink, silent sleeping children, to the ground.
Snow spreads the softness of its heavy pall
And earth lies easy without stir or sound.
I meant my tears as rain to touch your face,
I meant them warm as living waters’ foam.
I shed them surging in the current’s race,
I shed them singing at the gate of home.
I saw you coming and the sky grew light,
You climbed the hill and filled the woods with song,
Your eyes as morning stars dissolved my night
I felt new springtime and new summer long.
Then winter with a tear of joy did start
Caught in the frozen whiteness of your heart.
Shimmer and rustle in your silks and lace,
Move in the sea of admiration’s swell,
Sail, self-adoring in your conscious grace
Among the captives of your beauty’s spell.
Fashion your lovers’ knots and smile your smiles,
Set spinning silver laughter through the room,
Weave us enthralled into your web of wiles
Enmeshed, resistless, in your glistening loom.
Call, and we answer as the tides the moon
To soft compulsion passively respond.
Sing, and we revel in the sirens’ tune,
Beckon, and we embrace love’s fettered bond.
Where is the one that can withstand your art?
Fled from your court, in tears he stands apart.
Call me your slave and I will bow my head
Call me your fool and I will fix my grin
Call me your puppet and I twitch my thread
Call me your harlot and I hug my sin.
Call me your captive and I kiss my chains
Call me your agent and I meekly run,
Call me your victim and I greet my pains
Call me your shadow and I flee the sun.
Call me your dog and I will sleek my coat,
Call me your toad and I will puff with pride,
Call me your lust and I will proudly gloat,
Call me your shame and I will nothing hide.
Call me all things, set only one apart.
Call me your love and I will break my heart.
Why do you fix your eyes upon the height
And spurn the solid comfort of the plain?
Why do you shun the easy won delight
And give your burning sighs of love to pain?
Are you so filled with pleasure to the top
That surfeit follows with a sickness sour?
Having demolished passion’s sweetest crop
Must you its docks and thistles now devour?
This search for anguish is your last excess,
Counterfeit coin of a forger’s soul.
Your treasure-house piled high with love’s caress,
Your coax a blow into your begging bowl.
Thicken the dark as you have stained the light.
Those who abused the day embrace the night.
Yes, you are clever yet you seem a fool,
Yes, you are graceful yet you do not dance;
Yes, you are regal yet you will not rule,
Yes, you love logic yet you wait on chance.
Harsh laughter contradicts your diction sweet;
A sudden stammer stops your speech’s grace,
Your springing steps will shuffle in retreat,
You smile to conquer, then you turn your face.
Why give perfection welcome to a flaw?
Why linger silent on the brink of song?
Why fix one day of cold November raw
Onto your calendar of summer long?
One measurement this falling-off will prove:
You feed on loving yet you do not love.
Naked you stand behind a painted face
Shrunk in the shallows of a trivial mind.
When, left alone, you loosen fashion’s lace
A phantom stands before your mirror blind.
Dull stares the glass that nothing can reflect,
No lights across its silver surface chase.
Blank looks on blank, once you cast off reject
The bright accoutrements of body’s grace.
Without your silks, the jewels in your hair,
Your colour faded as the flesh retires
To rest from vanity upon the air,
Your small soul dies from lack of its desires.
Bereft of flesh your spirit’s life is gone.
Beloved by day, each night you die alone.
Spent in your service is my store of love
Scattered before you with a spendthrift hand.
But when did wealth love’s passion’s health improve?
What trade wind gold a cooling fancy fanned?
Useless my pile of newly minted coin
Stamped with my heart, yet your heart cannot tempt.
Gold spun from dross, with dross again to join,
In tarnished heaps, blackened with your contempt.
You struck the seam and loaded it with ore,
You washed the nuggets in your shallow stream,
Weighed and assayed each lump from edge to core
Made solid by your grasp my miser’s dream.
Love’s self-created guineas useless lie
Their total worth one last kiss will not buy.
Haunt me in death as you did haunt in life,
Renew flesh’s tricks though not in flesh tricked out.
In passion’s garden plot death’s weeds grow rife,
From empty air love’s torture still cries out.
Drum up you insults from beyond the grave,
Rage at me howling in your damned delight.
Hurl down such curses as in life you gave
And I’ll shout blasphemies into the night!
Resist the lure of peace, the quiet of calm,
Walk still your angry wicked-smiling ways
Ring out from hell some sacrilegious psalm,
Keep up our strident quarrel as your praise.
Forswear sweet heaven and your soul’s rebirth;
Stay with me still in torment on the earth!
I fear my future will repeat my past,
I dread old actions by new hates revived.
Lust’s leather thongs have strapped me to this last,
Flawed is the shape by folly’s hands contrived.
I would be guiltless, beautiful and true,
I would my course were clear, my way were straight.
I would dissolve in foamy ocean’s spue
To rise reformed and clean, sloughed of earth’s weight.
Then I would draw new patterns for my heart
Fashion fate’s fabric to a new design,
Joyfully use love’s soul-unlocking art
To stamp the flourish of a master’s sign.
Take off your hands, release me from your spell,
Change beast to beauty, turn my steps from hell.
Sweet soul deceiver, run your ruinous way,
Leave in your laughter’s wake a new heart’s wreck.
The gallows tree is masked by garlands gay,
Strung there by fools their hanging limbs to deck.
Hurry, bright hangman, for your victims wait,
See how each struggles to be first to die!
Beloved executioner of fate
Beckon me forward with the rest to lie.
For we’ll hang easy on the loaded rope,
Silent and still upon the cool air’s bed.
Caressed by quiet, who kissed goodbye to hope,
Hung all on love, now at love’s hands hang dead.
Poor broken dolls who tried your heart to move,
Cracked by your smile, limp trophies of your love.
Do you despair to think of beauty gone,
To see gold grow dull, the silver stained?
Do you feel fear as hastening hours press on
And raise your hands to stop time’s bullets rained?
Does grief come creeping to your midnight room
Dragging regrets on chained and leaden feet?
Do you at last, beyond the dance, see doom
Unbidden, waiting as the guests retreat?
Do you in pity pause now evening comes,
Look backwards with a tear for wounds you gave?
Does mercy stir as age your body numbs,
Your spirit’s birth make sweet your body’s grave?
No, changeless, cruel, unthinking you grow old,
Walking in summer silks towards the cold.
Cast time on me and I will bear his weight,
Give me your years and I will wear them well.
I’ll sport your age as highest honour great,
Your darkling star upon my breast will swell.
Give me each care that wrinkles your white brow,
Throw in my arms the cast-off silks of sin.
Give all that troubles your unclouded now
Into my charge to free tomorrow’s spin.
To others give your beauty and your smiles,
Your eye that wakes an April in each heart,
Let others taste those sweet familiar wiles
That charmed me once – give me that darker part;
Give me your ills, so when your bright goods fade
I shall be rich in most that you have made.
You wander through my empty spirit’s room
Bright and erratic as a vagrant star.
Who guessed that laughter sounds the crack of doom?
That beauty’s kiss imprints a septic scar?
As you survey the ruin you have made
The dreams you crushed beneath your pointed heel,
Hope’s furnishings pushed out into the shade,
Do you lament the wealth you helped to steal?
Had you been true the palace would have stood,
Had you been kind, my treasure house still stocked
Would have been yours, where now the blackened wood
Of wreckage guards the vanished gold you mocked.
Yet in my folly still I bid you come.
Stay, sweet destroyer, welcome to your home.
Smooth out the silken pages of the years,
Flick over gently every shining leaf.
Life’s vellum binds the list of love’s arrears,
Love’s debts are long but life’s computing brief.
Smug smiles the record from each finished page,
Poor straggling woes have here an ending neat.
A line suffices for a tortured age,
Life cuts love’s copy and the book’s complete.
Did you envisage such a meagre show?
Did you expect this little end for art?
Are you content, because their colours glow
To wrap these tinselled fetters round your heart?
If life expunge love for a softer look
Love’s beating tears will close life’s worthless book.
There is an instant when the torments cease
And shimmering stillness fills my body’s room.
There is a second-span of perfect peace
When I am poised between the sun and moon,
In equilibrium with the universe
Breathlessly balanced, calm and motionless.
With galaxies and angels I converse,
My outstretched fingers feel the clouds’ caress.
In this one instant all the ages roll,
Time’s tapestry is spread before my feet.
Pain, tears are gone, and I am in my soul
Safe from the storms that round my body beat.
It passes, and the dough without the leaven
Falls to the ground, hurled once again from heaven.
And were you too, Diogenes, once young?
Heedless and reckless did you waste your day
Hunting in arcady, your bow new strung
To speed the braggart arrow on its way?
What sorrow cracks the happy shell of youth,
That caul that wraps cocoon-like round the soul
Till Time the midwife, merciless in truth
Soaks off the babe’s protection in her bowl?
Why do the swimmers fight against the flood,
Why is youth’s wisdom ceded to the old?
Must cooler brain disown the raging blood
That fires its rocket to the lunar cold?
Youth to old age from fear at last must yield.
Only the young and brave despise the shield.
Sad stretch the years of lonely solitude
Before, behind, whichever way I stare
The road winds by while heavy rainclouds brood
On trudging miles, across a landscape bare.
Come river’s flood and drown me in your deep!
Come lightning, pierce me on your crooked fork!
I call you, wind, down from the mountain sweep
And flatten me in one short tempest’s work.
O I have loved you, elements of earth
You changeless guardians of moor and fell;
Too many times have I seen spring’s rebirth
To fear the winter tolling of my bell.
Turn me into a stone along this road
So I shall find my rest and lose my load.
Who lonely lives, he most for friendship strives,
Seeking to please by wit, to charm by art;
Past failures fled, in sunlit future lives
Where he is conqueror of every heart.
So do I hang upon tomorrow’s lips
When dull today has spurned me yet again.
Safe into harbour crowd my longed-for ships
Replete with treasure from a fabled main.
Brightest the day that has not yet seen birth,
Peerless the promise of still slumbering morn;
Sweetest the song before it’s sung on earth,
Tomorrow’s safe, today brings only scorn.
What if I live with neither smile nor kiss?
Unspoiled tomorrow beams in beckoning bliss.
Blue bends the evening sky about my head,
Deeper the blue of water at my feet.
How soon the daylight into dusk has fled,
How quickly sky and water darkly meet.
How fast dissolve the dear-loved shapes of day,
Faster than life’s last breath, upon the wind
They rush into oblivion’s chartless way
Leaving a lonely vacuum behind.
Now the night empties all my day held dear
My eyes see nothing but the swallowing dark;
Those who most loved the morning’s radiance clear
Most feel the hurt of evening’s smudging mark.
In vain to look about me, all is night.
But close my eyes, and I am in the light.
Slide softly with the evening into night,
Give restless life its leave until the morn.
There is no face that fades not with the light,
As sunshine’s shadow creatures we are born.
Where are the smiles that warmed the earth at noon?
Where are the laughter and the singing gone?
Day’s children danced, but it is over soon
And with the night each slips away alone.
I do not fear to sail on to sleep’s sea,
Dark, deep and changeless past day’s frothing waves;
To feel the lapping of eternity
That drowns the sense yet the soul’s essence saves.
Each night in sleep I feel the bliss of death
Yet fear of him chokes every waking breath.
Sweet, sweet is life when easy runs the mind
Along the well-oiled silence of its rails.
Calm is the spirit when the world is kind,
Lulled is the sense when opposition fails.
Quiet is the pool wherein no pebbles drop,
Serene the face that never frowns in thought.
Smooth are the hands that never tilled the crop,
Happy the soul that no adventure sought.
Pleasant to lie at ease while others toil,
To find a cushion waiting at the back.
Intact, to float beyond life’s power to spoil,
Safe from spiked sorrow, raised above the rack.
If I could lose my goads I’d sink to this;
Live without love, for bliss exchange your kiss.
How long must I drag out my days alone,
My weary mind in wearier body’s case?
Grey dawn, dark morning, follow black night gone
Leaving salt tears to stain my pillow’s face.
How cold and comfortless are strangers’ smiles
That cheer each other and yet touch not me.
I hear their voices thinly, as from miles
Of wasted distance, stretched eternally.
Outlawed, alone, miscast upon life’s stage,
Uncertain of my part, still less the plot
I improvise in hopeless, blinded rage
Striving to call to mind some sense forgot.
But step one other player from the wings
And I’ll know triumph where now failure stings.
There is a sweetness at the end of thought,
Dear promise of repose as daylight fades.
The sunlight beauty of an instant caught
And kept as surety against night’s shades.
There is a stillness at the close of pain;
No day so troubled but it ends in rest.
Twisted and narrow winds life’s darkening lane,
The way is stony but the end is blest.
There was a voice that softly called my name;
I raised my eyes and saw an outstretched hand.
Then through his war this weary warrior came,
Laid down his arms and gave his last command.
A healing love awaits beyond my breath.
The broken bones of life will mend in death.
Call me defiant from beyond the grave,
Shout from your prison and I’ll set you free.
Love’s silvered lances in bright cohorts brave
Sail in victorious ships across night’s sea.
My legions of the light camp on death’s shore,
Safely the waters of oblivion crossed.
So now we march upon his castle door
And from a turret falls your gauntlet tossed.
O I have come so far to win you back
And with my army stormed this land of fears!
Give me encouragement for my attack,
Cry for success to crown my soldiers’ cheers!
As I my treasure, purchased with my pain
From death himself, snatch to my heart again.
O love that loved before love called my name,
O heart I held before my heart was clasped,
O star that shone before the evening came,
O hands that clung before my fingers grasped.
O heaven that beamed before the first tree grew,
O yesterday, while still today delayed!
O mind that planned before man’s first thought knew,
O laugh that silvered the primeval glade!
O tears that softened the primordial plains,
O smile that warmed the first swamp water thick,
O breath that dried life’s first snail-winding stains,
O fire that lit my frame’s quiescent stick!
O all that was before I walked the earth,
O ages take me back, give me rebirth.
Life’s loss reflects in the cracked glass of love,
Spoiled years return again at love’s harsh call.
Love’s memories like ghosts at evening move
Sadly among the church-dew’s hallowing fall.
Love sits in judgment on my wasted life
Crouched in the rubble of hope’s ruined tower.
Weeping for roses where the weeds grow rife,
For sleep’s dear dreams that waking wolves devour.
Love is the touchstone of poor life’s untruth;
But for love’s kiss I would embrace my lies.
Love’s ageless stare rebukes my pose of youth,
At folly’s ball love sits alone and cries.
True love destroys the life itself it has blest.
Life’s flower dies shrivelled on love’s burning breast.
New follies lightly on old fancies rest,
On ruined visions younger dreams alight.
Faint flying hopes, by heavy clouds oppressed
Sink fluttering here in search of fresh delight.
This is the dreamer’s grave, the court of bones
Rattling like dice before the gambler’s call.
Though sighs its vaults support instead of stones
This is the house of cards that will not fall.
Too weak the structure to invite decay,
Too frail to stand and yet too light to drop.
Dead grasses safely with the breezes sway
While golden grain falls richly to the crop.
The fool within his Folly dwells content;
Bankrupt of care, his tears and treasure spent.
Weary my limbs and wearier still my soul
Wounded by warring passion’s jagged scars
I sink to rest in evening’s flickering bowl
And by night’s camp fires greet the reddening stars.
Sweet and untroubled is a soldier’s sleep,
Too deep for dreams, too still to stir the breath.
In dark oblivion’s wood their trystings keep
Who lived to sleep but wake again to death.
So leave me to my hard-won warrior’s rest
On dark earth lying and by dark night rocked,
War’s curses fading into silence blest,
A brief hour’s peace to soothe the battle-shocked.
Love, let me sleep or pierce me as I lie.
Worn by your raging to death’s arms I’ll fly.
Come closer sleep, come closer easy death,
Steal up and join the shadows round my bed.
Come, welcome; gather up my faltering breath
Into your gentle quiet. Let me shed
Under your wings the shouting and alarms
Of ancient fears and newly fashioned pains
Forged every minute. Take me in your arms
And lead me gently from my own remains.
When I am fled then surely care must cease,
Death’s darkening clouds will yield their blessed rain
And my short summer’s storm dissolve in peace.
But will I sink unconscious on that plane?
Dead flowers sleep but care preserves their roots.
The dull seed stirs, feels pain, and puts out shoots.
How sad the end of morning creeps to noon
Already limping with its weight of hours
To stark meridian’s pole, scratched with sun’s rune,
Light’s magic pointer to blue evening’s towers.
Together we set out to climb the day.
After love’s night dawn woke us with a kiss.
Light running, hand in hand, we sped our way
All earth our cushion of soft-breathing bliss.
The way of morning stretched before us, bright,
Your eyes shone deeper than the heaven’s gold,
Then met a stranger’s with an answering light;
You loosed my fingers and the day grew cold.
So I with morning to my noon am come,
To rest awhile and then turn lonely home.
I fear no winter for I knew no spring.
Youth leaves me not for I was always old.
Hard grows the hand that grasps the nettle’s sting,
Hardy the body that is always cold.
Tell me of April, blossom and the sun,
Of languid water where a white swan sails.
Sleek summer hours down which the warm sands run;
Spin me your hot thyme-scented travellers’ tales.
Call back for me the picture of those days,
But see, you cannot, for the light has gone,
Your blues and golds have thickened into greys,
Warm turf transmuted into chilling stone.
As die the seasons so declines all love.
The loveless only love’s death cannot move.
Forgetting love, but not by love forgot
Oblivious folly to oblivion creeps.
The victor staggers at the sniper’s shot,
A general’s life the lonely bullet reaps.
Slayers of thousands war’s delight has slain,
So your devouring does yourself destroy.
Embrace new love and you embrace old pain,
Dark changeling of our now rejected joy.
Past weights of kisses hang on passion’s brow,
Old fires rekindle near a new flame’s heat.
Stamp out the flowers and love’s weeds stronger grow;
Defeated troops fight fiercest in retreat.
Speak sweetly then of our poor love that’s past
And your new love through mine will longer last.
Call back today before it joins the night.
I would re-write this chapter in my book.
Though morning sang of sparkling promise bright
Tears stain the pleasure that the noonday took.
Now in the evening I am left alone,
In fear to face a night of smothering dark.
Call back the dawn when wrong was yet undone,
Let me once more upon today embark!
Restore my words unsaid, my thoughts unspun,
Back to the sweet oblivion of the womb.
Give me again the carefree morning sun
Before the couch of love became its tomb.
Cut off my years but give me back today.
This forfeit for my love I’ll gladly pay.
Fall evening dew and fall my evening tears,
If night itself can weep then may not I?
The day’s hard straining’s done and darkness nears,
Tears change to diamond stars in heaven’s eye.
The settling land sighs softly into rest,
Dark pools of deeper black engulf the trees.
Oblivion ends the run of daylight’s quest
And restless man sinks slowly to his knees.
But no stars glitter from the tears I weep,
No jewelled velvet wraps around my grief.
Dry-eyed till dawn I must my vigil keep,
For like the dew my easing tears were brief.
O heaven if your guiding power be love
Show love to me and my heart’s love remove.
Fall softly, autumn leaves, upon my grave.
Send down your rain of golden kisses sweet.
Those who had little every token save,
Pathetic trophies of a life’s retreat.
So each and every leaf are pledges proved
Of non-existent loves, that formed their part
In fantasies when on the earth I moved;
No folly like the folly of the heart.
O rain down, leaves, be prodigal to me
Who living but a miser’s portion had
Of love and joy. Sorrow’s epitome
In lonely life, now in earth’s arms lies glad.
Now gentle leaves, death’s kisses on the ground,
Bring sweetness that in life I never found.
I yearn for fame and yet abhor the toil,
Grudge the harsh grinding of my blunted blade.
Life’s drudgery has left such little spoil,
What use to break my hands upon the spade?
Too old to struggle yet too young to die
Irresolutely paused upon life’s road;
I spread my wings yet never learnt to fly,
I fear to gallop yet I feel the goad.
Shall I retire to some ghost-haunted shade
Safe from ambition’s glare to rest in peace?
Join other forms by failure phantoms made,
Enter their twilit land where strivings cease?
Tired puppets from the stage fall limply slack,
Lust for love’s praise the string that jerks them back.
Why am I dogged with shadows in the sun?
No noon so bright but I am in the dark.
Life’s rails for me in deeper furrows run,
The sea is rough whenever I embark.
Why must I see the thorns but not the rose?
Why am I marred, not shaped, by beauty’s blade?
I dwell in evening, yet the morning chose;
Swallowed by guilt’s dull penitential shade.
There is a darkness in my deepest soul.
My words are white but all my thoughts are black.
I feel the fragments that corrupt my whole,
With jewelled hands I scratch my ragged back.
Life’s coin falls for me reversed from grace,
Yet still pure gold, for both sides bear your face.
Should I have turned away as you passed by?
Should I have left the lion in his cage,
Have spurned death’s gift of immortality
Bestowed on those who turn and face his rage?
When danger dangled in my timid reach
Should I have sat with meekly folded hands,
Fearing the ocean, clung then to the beach
Safe in the drift of life’s fine-powdered sands?
Should I have seized the pitch-hot brand of love
Though to my bone its black bitumen burned
Snatched up the challenge of your fluttering glove,
Or to the fold my sober footsteps turned?
I should have stopped, yet followed to the end,
Too proud to break and now too dry to bend.
I am alone, most lonely on the earth.
I am the guest who never turns to friend.
I stand apart outside the ring of mirth,
I journey lonely to the grey world’s end.
Touched in my cradle by an alien hand
My heart is elsewhere in a place unknown.
While my meek body holds its subject stand
My wild soul shrieks across the sands alone.
Can changelings change and creep into the sun,
Cast off the storm-clouds that surround their path?
Is there a hand that, when I turn to run,
Will draw me lovingly towards the hearth?
Apart from pleasure and a part of woe
I must live exiled yet I may not go.
Come meet me at death’s ever-open gate,
Wait in the shadows with your pointed smile.
Loving too early now we die too late.
We have outstayed our welcome this long while.
When first we met eternity seemed ours,
Time’s hand moved slowly with a lingering trace,
Sketching his background of bright painted hours,
Long vistas flowing in unchanging pace.
Slow, safe and lovely moved our melting years
Dancing their measure of unhurried bliss;
But now they stumble, goaded by time’s spears
Too tired to heed our sighs, to feel our kiss.
How swiftly ends the life that seemed so long.
So let us go together with a song.
Water will cool our hands that love has burned,
As we sink slowly in the dark stream’s pull.
Parched dry by love, we for this water yearned
So let us drink until our hearts are full.
Grave as a shadow closing off the day
Our river wanders from its peaceful source,
Winding and willowed, coils in swanlike sway
Along the moonlit measure of its course.
Together as dead driftwood let us float,
Sodden and spent, rejected to the sea.
What if the water our drowned features bloat?
We need not shudder for we shall not see.
Washed clean at last, to life’s jeers deaf and blind
We’ll ride together on the waters kind.
What sleep has mended careless morning breaks.
Tears that the night has dried with dawn return.
Eased limbs contort into familiar aches,
Old wounds re-open and old blisters burn.
A night’s forgetting works a world of cure,
Love’s fury faded in my darkened mind;
A merciful physician, grave and sure
Waits every evening with his potions kind.
Each night of healing by each day undone,
Wanton destruction of painstaking care!
I will escape love’s cruel returning sun,
Let living’s cracks eternity repair.
Tomorrow only painfully embrace
Before I die, once more to see your face.
I stand alone among the springtime green,
Black frosts of winter bind my body still.
Shackled and slow I move across the scene
Of buds and blossom and a sunlit hill.
I did not choose to hear the song again
Of cuckoos, nor to feel warm nature’s breath.
Unwilling to outlive the winter long
I sought to clasp the icy hand of death.
I would have sunk at peace into the snow
Or flickered out on some long evening grey;
Flown like a feather in the north wind’s blow;
Died dreaming on a dark December day.
I may not weep and yet I cannot sing.
Outcast by winter and despised by spring.
Youth’s last smile flickers in my empty heart.
This vacuum has starved his fire of breath.
His bright limbs twitch in last convulsive start,
Then fold themselves into the swathe of death.
One look from you would his fair life have saved,
One cry have caught him backwards as he fell.
His words of love were but for you engraved
Upon the walls of my poor body’s cell.
Your touch plumped out the wrinkles on my cheek,
My eyes were brightened by the tears you caused.
Rough hands relaxed, in soothing whiteness sleek;
Feeling your touch, time smiled in joy and paused.
Fed by your love my youth refused to die.
Now you are gone he drops without a sigh.
Is love past pleasure or remembered pain,
The morning’s joy or the long nights of tears?
The heavy weighting of my shoulders’ strain
Or the bright angel that with sleep appears?
Love hides in mockery behind his masks,
Ringing their changes with an actor’s art.
In comedy’s sweet sun the lover basks
Till tragedy’s cold fingers pinch his heart.
Love is not rest, nor peace, nor quiet mind,
It is not easy and it does not heal.
To all unsure, to lovers most unkind,
Their paltry pleasures with a kiss to steal.
Play on, cruel love, enjoy your soulless skill,
You gave to my love life you cannot kill.
Farewell enchanted autumn draped in gold,
Gathering your gown of leaves about your feet,
Treading soft footed on the ground grown cold
Although the sunshine lightens your retreat.
Bright berries clinging in your russet hair,
You stand before November’s misty shroud.
Cold winter’s winding sheet awaits you there
To wrap your beauty in its clammy cloud.
Stay one more shining hour before you go!
For while you stand, so summer lives, and spring.
Morning and noon shine in your evening glow,
Your late voice sings of sweet remembering.
Transfixed in warmth and colour, never move.
While earth’s life lingers still, so lives my love.
I am afraid to die and let you live,
For faithless, you will not live long alone.
Our promises you’ll to some other give,
Your grief will swiftly go once I am gone.
I know your tears, how shallow are their springs,
How easily they rise, how quickly cease.
How eagerly your hands will cut the strings
That bound the love I purchased with my peace.
A week will be too long for you to mourn
The life that for your love his life has spent.
Must I lie listening in death’s shady bourne
While in another’s arms you lie content?
Yes, I’ll endure and wait, but not in vain.
One day you’ll die and then be mine again.
Winter must come and love’s long summer fade,
Love’s laughter silenced by the snow’s soft hand.
Love’s tears hard frozen in the glacier’s jade
Greenly adorn white hoar-frosts’s circling band.
Cold stillness settles over beauty’s brow,
Ice spreads its marbled lacquer on the rose.
Life’s hands recede from evening’s ember glow,
Cold midnight comes; retreat, release, repose.
The hand of cold is as the hand of death,
One touch of frost is warning of the grave.
I fear to freeze my foolish bubbling breath,
I fear to venture on the icebound wave.
That death is peace I know; but death is cold.
And winter, nature’s death, brings horrors old.
Shall I be listening, love, beneath the earth
When you come mourning with a solemn face?
Ringing with flowers my narrow grave span’s girth,
Crowning with tears corruption’s cold embrace?
Shall I take comfort from the whispered prayer,
Will it drop peace into my little cell?
As love’s lone piper plays his funeral air
Shall I rock gently to the music’s swell?
No, dark, unseeing, deaf and dumb I’ll lie
No longer living, so no longer bound
By passion’s strings that jerk humanity.
The puppets need not dance beneath the ground.
But when mens’ sounds recede and night comes on
With the harsh wind of midnight I’ll be gone.
Who digs the grave for love? Who sows the grass
Upon love’s tomb in green finality?
Whose feet on churchyard gravel slowly pass,
Trudging black-shod before mortality?
Who lives when love is dead? Who sheds the tears
When both their reason and their fount is dry?
Who craves protection when there are no fears,
What need of comfort when there’s none to cry?
For love’s the sum and total of us all,
Black anger and pure bliss laid side by side.
Each ill of life comes running at his call,
Yet cure for each does but in love reside.
The nettle’s dead, but buried with his sting
Lie we who’ll never more feel anything.
Do you remember nothing of my love?
Are years and tears deliciously forgot?
I clung to you as to your hand your glove,
Your hand withdrawn, love’s leather turned to rot.
My life’s devotion weathered like a rock,
Steady in storm, in calmer seas serene,
Till your ill-usage chipped it block by block
Into crude gravestones for the might-have-been.
How you have flattened joy and sense and wit!
Razed tenderness and pity to the ground;
Onto my funeral cairn hurled bit by bit
Discarded hopes by tears worn smooth and round.
The child runs ever on to newer joys
Leaving behind his wreck of broken toys.
The evening sun burns sharper than the noon’s,
As slanted words cut deeper than a shout.
The crown slipped sideways the fool’s head festoons,
A tinselled pageant’s preface to the rout.
Sideways love smiles in old October slant,
Planting late arrows in my swollen heart
Grown fat with feasting to the crickets’ chant,
Grown pocked with summer’s daily piercing dart.
So ends our banquet that in May began.
Thin, emptied husks, the revellers descend
The staircase of the year, whose carpet ran
From crimson velvet to this threadbare end.
Yet still love’s sun reaps fiercest as it sets.
Bent rays will garner what straight noon forgets.
Love’s lures are endless as the murmuring sands.
Love’s secrets black and thicker than the night.
Love’s plottings threaded as the seaweed’s strands,
Love’s rage the sea’s grey rush of uncoiled might.
Love’s smile can quicken the dull dead from sleep,
Love’s sigh can wipe away a lifetime’s woe.
Love’s hand can snatch the sinner from the deep,
Love’s kiss can change the wolf into the doe.
Love wept in hell and bought an instant’s peace,
Love laughed in heaven and the angels sang.
Love toiled through life and won man’s sweet release,
Love watched through death and eased each parting pang.
Love, cruel and cunning, apes the devil’s art
Then turns about and opens heaven’s heart.
Fly upward youth, on still unbroken wings,
Soar to the sun before night’s pinions fall.
Float up, frail moth, to where high heaven sings,
Answer eternity’s sharp siren call.
Into the light, into the glittering air,
Into the radiance clear, into God’s heart.
Bright as an arrow, pierce the clouds of care,
Find freedom fluttering on your valiant dart.
Farewell to earth, to life that might have been.
Farewell to time, farewell the seasons’ roll.
Farewell to noon, farewell to night serene,
Only the morning’s wings shall speed your soul.
So youth departs upon the brink of day,
Leaves all behind, takes only love away.
Love is a thousand pleasures and one pain,
A thousand mornings and one leaden night.
A thousand summers and one winter’s rain,
Love is a thousand doves and one wolf’s bite.
Love’s golden room has but one corner dark,
Love’s picture perfect, but for one smudged line.
One angel only bears the witch’s mark
In all love’s feathered host’s celestial shine.
The good so measureless, the ill so small!
An instant’s frown upon perfection’s face.
What taints the honey with its drop of gall?
Why must love lack the final beam of grace?
Love in its glory its own fault has proved,
Pitied the darkness, stooped to kiss the loved.
What loss can lessen pure self-losing love
Since self already lost cannot grow less?
Add loss to loss or loss from loss remove,
The airy scales still balance nothingness.
When self has shrunken to a grain of sand
Yet still itself in gritted atom’s speck,
Though it is swallowed in the high-duned strand,
Can shift and draw their sliding mass to wreck.
Self sways unbalanced at earth’s structure’s foot,
The odd equation still unsolved by time.
Only self’s heart plucked out, in love’s hands put
Explodes man’s matter and absolves man’s crime.
Last loss of self upon love’s altar tossed
Regains for man the love his self had lost.
Behind life’s raging lurks love’s secret smile,
Past pity, past distress, past pain, past health.
Past failure, past success, past faith, past guile,
Past grief, past joy, past penury, past wealth.
Beneath my frowning love smooths out my brow,
Cheers pity, drains distress, pours peace on pain;
Heals failure’s faith, wealth’s guiled success lays low
With penury and grief-specked joy in chain.
Below life’s shallows runs a deeper spring,
Past memory, past mind, past breath, past birth.
Behind each mask a hand unties the string,
Past masquerade, past midnight and past mirth.
Past youth, past age, past spinning, past my race
Love’s light shines still past death’s dark-shuttered face.
Fall down light’s rain, fall down the golden tears
Fast fleeting, flashing past the fearless sun.
Bright heaven’s grief the face of morning sears,
Down the hot sky the glittering daggers run.
I see your light, I feel your heat, I burn.
If it is pain or joy I cannot tell.
I scorch, I suffer, I endure, I yearn,
Fathomless longings swamp me in their spell.
Your beauty cuts me with a golden blade,
I am dismembered by your diamond scars,
Destroyed and shattered, till with midnight’s shade
My broken pieces float away as stars.
But whose the hand that scours the sky at dawn,
Gathers me up, throws back to earth my spawn?
I am, but I am overwhelmed by life.
I am too weak, I wither in the sun.
Protected only by the pull of strife
Without that sea-wall I am overrun.
I must be small and limited and safe,
Keep my eyes narrowed to escape the light.
Trot in my narrow rat-runs, need the chafe,
Twist more secure my chains, tie my noose tight.
I must not lift my eyes. I do not dare.
Go blinkered, led by fools, along this path.
If I broke free, ran loose, unchained, aware,
How could I face the shattered aftermath?
Let me lie beached: let me life’s seas forget.
One day I must embark; not yet, not yet.
The body’s shell does not so quickly break,
The prison walls are stronger than they seem.
The gaolers watch and swift repairings make,
The cell door shuts on each escaper’s dream.
Wounds are closed up and broken bones are set,
Scratches are healed and shocks are slowly stilled.
Such care, such skill, around this hulk beset,
Such smooth restoring of the life blood spilled!
To keep the captive safe within his room
Unseen battalions labour night and day.
He may not choose the moment of his doom,
The gates will open only when they may.
If I myself destroy this rotting tomb
Shall I wake prisoner in another womb?
The garden darkens, deepens into shades
The blankness thickens, threatening round my face.
Behind my shoulders evening’s sharpened blades
Wait stilly, pointed, in light’s narrowing space.
And so I kneel, the rock against my knees
And so I pray, the rock against my heart.
I breathe futilities on to the breeze.
I see my ending, though I knew no start.
Cold is the stone but colder still my hands
Frozen with fear, dead with despair I kneel.
Weighted with death, thronged with his iron bands
Strapped to the ground, I bleed, I ache, I feel.
But I could rise, break free from this rock’s face.
But could I let another take my place?
Who am I then who wait within this room,
Am I guest or tenant of this hearth?
Am I the stranger with the cloak of doom
Or the sweet sweeper of the homeward path?
I know this dwelling yet it is not mine,
I greet these halls though hollowly they ring.
Another’s hands have filled my glass with wine
And though I drink it is not I who sing.
Come back, you owner of this secret place,
Turn me away or leave me here in peace.
If I must go then tell me to my face,
If I may stay then let your prickings cease.
I did not choose to come; I was transferred,
If you would have me to go then speak the word.
I cannot smile at life or weep for death
For death is rest and life is only toil.
The sweetest look beams past the span of breath,
Tomorrow’s flowers curl deep in death’s dark soil.
You are alive but the world calls you dead.
My life is warmed by you, though you lie cold.
The tomb’s inscription’s joy and never dread,
It is a tale of mirth though gravely told.
How can I miss you when you smile with me,
How can I grieve when you are always near?
How show the mourners their futility,
How can I draw from all this joy, one tear?
Life golden sweet, unending bliss is ours.
We laugh together at your funeral flowers.
The cup is bitter yet my thirst is great,
To drink is folly, to abstain is death.
Give me the draught of life’s crushed grapes of hate,
I’ll slake my thirst though drinking drowns my breath.
I am not ready for the windless seas,
I am not turned arrayed to face the suns.
Give me the storm to fight, spare me the breeze
That cold within my veins as poison runs.
Let me raise up my fists, let my voice rage
Grant me the safety of the battle red.
I fear contentment for it comes with age,
The first day’s calm calls out the carolling dead.
Give me harsh life till my last parting pang.
Say that my voice was harsh but say I sang.
O love that shakes the stardust round my feet
That silvers night and makes the morning gold,
That draws a circle round each day complete,
A ring of beauty dark, by light ensouled.
O love that filters every breath I draw,
Fastens my lips against earth’s choking dust,
Defends my weakness, paints across each flaw
Obliterates with sighs the stains of rust.
You shower me with such treasures that I faint,
My arms cannot contain these riches heaped.
Each hour an age of bliss, no tears or taint,
Each day a harvest though I never reaped.
No toil, no labour, no true worth I’ve proved,
But still these treasures poured, because I loved.
How do I have the strength to stretch my arms,
To reach the heaven from the pull of earth?
Too weak to spell the words, to read the charms
Yet power comes, to loose my hard-strapped girth.
A magnet runs between love’s soul and mine
Ache pulls on ache and pain draws tight on pain.
Love’s longing points its secret mason’s sign,
Sky’s brothers weep, then signal back again.
My broken shoulder pushes back the clouds,
My bloodstained hand reflects the red of heaven;
Only pain’s shriek can part the chattering crowds,
Only the furnace fire can raise the leaven.
If pain’s the password to eternal love
Stay here on earth. They suffer worse above.
Why should I fear old age and clouding eyes,
The stiffening hand, the stammer in the speech?
The slower pace, the memory’s teasing lies,
The wreck of beauty on time’s stony beach?
Who fears the jailor when he drops the key,
Who fails to bless the halting of the rack?
This disconnection from mortality
Sends current surging through another track.
The light within the lantern burns the shade,
The song that shouts from heaven bursts the ear.
Life’s fire, through flesh, a pleasing temple made
But flames are hot and as they rise they sear.
So, singing, glory in the frame’s decay.
Who weeps to see the prison burn away?
Sorrow’s swords sharpen on my dull-edged stone
Blunt and inanimate, this passive mass
Smooth, grey and swart, the uncomplaining hone
Stays mute, unyielding, as the thin blades pass.
Grief’s edges keen cut this dark flint in vain,
No furrows mark where earlier knives have crossed.
This mount surmounts the black extreme of pain,
Its scars so many that their marks are lost.
This is my soul, seared, studded yet serene
In smooth peace lapped past the last piercing pang,
The darkest wave that left my spirit clean,
The aching deep that in my ear-drums rang.
Nothing can touch me now. I am secure.
Pain’s worst endured will through all pains endure.
I called, you answered. I implored, you gave.
I cried, you heard; I faltered, you were firm.
I saw the drowning, then I saw you save.
I heard the shipwrecked souls your rock confirm.
You listened when I did not dare to speak.
You gave me words when words were past my tongue.
You smoothed my jagged fancy’s prancing freak,
You blessed the curse that I at heaven flung.
You knew my thoughts before they fired my brain,
You dried my tears before they left my eyes.
I called to all, but not to you, in vain.
I grasped your hands the day I tried to rise.
I saw the tears run down your perfect face.
One fell on me and lifted me to grace.
Fancy’s flocks settle lightly on the ground
Feathered and frilled, the idle thoughts flit home.
Wild wheeling words by whirring watch-springs wound
Soared in the sky, now dropping dead they come.
Birds, broken-winged on the first fledging flight
Fall easier their short distance to the ground,
But these were larks that broke the morning bright,
Pierced heaven’s heart, felt the air’s pulses pound!
So proud, so free, so high; so far to fall,
The tortured corkscrew of their plummeting spin
Bores them down deep into earth’s clammy pall,
Hurls on their heads the angry ether’s din.
But love’s soft brake absorbs their headlong flight
Drains off their tears, so thay land soft and light.
Once in a life comes death and once he goes,
We cannot wait his coming every day.
Only one moment's work to pick the rose,
Futile, time spent foretelling its decay.
Once is enough to clasp that chilling hand,
No need to hold it pressed against the face.
One touch suffices to unloose life's band,
NO earlier fingers need untie the lace.
Once at the end of days falls the last tear
Once at the end of ease breathes the last sigh.
Once at the end of stress looms the last fear,
Once at the end of breath pants the last cry.
The hour strikes once and will not strike again
But once, as birth gave life, death takes his gain.
Sweet traveller, as you pass my lintel, stay,
Ease off your pack and rest against my wall,
Halt for an instant on your weighted way
Loose your load briefly with the evening fall.
The hard hill climbed, the aching acres crossed
Blue distance put between each dawn and home,
Past pleasures on the day's dry wood-fire tossed,
Past sorrows hurled into night's river-foam.
Stay for an hour between the dask and dark
Safe in this no-man's-land between the hours.
Shaded and screened, your travel's tearstained mask
Fades out of sight and peace at last is ours.
Rest rises vapour-like from the soft ground
Here on my hearth, my heart, sink without sound.
Love left my life to ride upon the air,
Shed the dark cloak and disappeared from view.
Winked briefly from the silvered starlight's stare,
Danced up to join dawn's vapoured airy crew.
Love took the morning, snatched it from my hands,
Love took my body's breath, my poor heart's beat.
Love strewed my kisses on the whitening sands,
Love pulled my sighs into the waves' retreat.
The sea is sullen now that love has gone,
The sands are cold and sharp against my tread.
The universe is black; I am alone.
Only my pain is left; all else is dead.
Love when he goes takes all of life away
Only the stubborn flesh resists decay.
Between the morning and dusk's narrowing sight
The child's day hangs upon the sun and moon.
From gleam to glory, down to dimming light
Crowned at the apex by the golden noon.
That point between the running and the rest
That pause before the laugh becomes a sigh;
The trimph round the helmet's pluming crest
Before it sinks with soldier's dust to lie.
The swelling bubbles float upon the air
Till at their gaudy summit-points they burst.
The golden noon-day's pricking pin beware,
Meridian's goad is ready and rehearsed.
Poor child, noon kills your day with daggers bright.
Zenith to evening falls. Now comes the night.
Throw Red on white and white again on red,
Build the soft petals into velvet piles.
Rose castles rising from an eastern plain,
Coned towers, cool courtyards, minarets and tiles.
Cushions of flowers within pale palace walls
Scented and soft under a muffled moon
Cloud-banked and blurred behind the threaded thralls
Of spider-dust spun by recumbant noon.
Roses of day and rose ghosts of the night,
Flower faces lying limp in layers thin,
Silently falling, settling red and white,
Snowflakes of summer sighing as they spin.
Pearl patterned palaces of rosy death
Flattened and flurried by one laughing breath.
I saw his face behind the midnight sky
Screened by the stars, like daises on his cloak.
I felt his shadow shake eternity,
I heard space shift and settle in his yoke.
I saw his footprints boiling in the snow
Melted and scalding in their cauldrons' heat.
I felt the cracking of earth's heart below,
I heard his wings with thunder in their beat.
Those wings that brush the cloud-banks through the air,
That sword that shears the forest at a stroke!
The eyes as ocean deeps, the blazing hair
The rushing feet that race the meteor's smoke!
Flown with his limitless legions on the wind.
Yet once I saw him; now my eyes are blind.
O how they dread you, soflty-stepping death!
How every day and most of each night
They lie and shudder with their quavering breath,
That master bellows, lord of their flame's light.
O how they listen to the thumping heart!
The fools, for if it stopped they would not hear.
Their pulses flicker in an adder's dart
Racing along the twitching skin of fear.
They see your shadow forming on the wall,
They hear your horses whinny in the street.
The dark coach passes - yet you do not call,
They need not follow yet on shaking feet.
Safe for another day - pull down the blind!
Yet, through the shades, the coachman's face was kind.
O wind that I can hear but cannot see
Are you the secret in the heart of man?
Are you the code-word to eternity
That hides the planner yet propounds the plan?
O wind, I see your works, but you are hid.
I feel your hurling weight but cannot touch.
Your force whips up the whirlpool's watery skid
Yet you are straw in drowning sailor's clutch.
O wind you cheat us with your raging voice
Filling with flame, or airy hope, or love
Our little hearts that in your song rejoice,
Until you flick us with your flattening glove.
O wind that sobs life's secret in our ears:
That noise is nothing; drown our silent fears!
Always alone. Always an empty hand,
Always a door shut in my eager face.
Always apart, lost in an unknown land,
Always a stranger in another's place.
Who are my kin? Who knows, but oh, not these!
Where is my home? Who knows, but oh, not here!
What is my goal? Who knows, but oh, not ease!
Who waits my end? Who knows, but oh, not fear!
Here there's no comfort so then let me go.
Here I am weary but elsewhere there's rest.
I am in haste, my candle burns too slow.
Let it go out so I can start my quest.
Homeless in life hopeful in death I trust.
If light can't love then darkness must.
Cast me off, hope. Set me to drift alone
Free of your anchor, weighted with my dreams.
One moment chained to striving, then I'm gone,
Borne in my barrel-craft of rotting beams.
Cast me off, Love, unseaworthy to sea.
Free off your swelling sails that sped my heart;
White blowing kisses, crowding down the lee,
Turn me about into the salt wind's smart.
Cast me off, life. Hack through my tar-sealed rope.
Free off your compass chart, push me away.
Lay up your grappling irons that scratch and grope.
Haul off this iron-scored hulk of rusting grey.
Cast me off hope, love, life: I'll lightly float
High as the scream in some shrill seagull's throat.
O flesh that sits so solid on my face,
O body that embalms my bandaged soul
Pea-shrunk within the painted mummy case
Flanked by papyrus and the funeral bowl;
O smooth-encasing flesh that seals the tomb,
That veils the body's bony structure-plan;
That blueprints the death chamber inthe womb,
O flesh, that gathers as a mist round man,
What are you, flesh, my enemy or friend?
Do you protect me, give my soul this shell
But to encase me, bound, until my end,
Or to stand guard between my soul and hell?
O flesh, without you, how my soul would fly!
But what dark wings would bear it company?
So from all loving turned I turn to you,
Despairing kisses, I embrace despair.
Spurned by all hearts so my own heart I'll spurn
Torn by its storms, from my own breast to tear.
Too much of love has bread love's hate in me,
So in your hate I'll expiate my loves
And in your leaden presence painfully
Shoulder your spite that my own respite proves.
Your scorn delivered brings deliverance,
Your lies unmasked destroy my mask of lies.
Your temper's blast fans my soul's temperance,
All evil held by you from my hold flies.
Blown off my course by love, I felt your blow
Buffet my barque. With hate to port I'll go.
Out of the night I step into the sun.
So long a tenant of that underworld
That darkened region where death's rivers run
Between the banks of bones piled dry and pearled;
So long a wanderer in that twilight land,
My eyes grown blind and blinkered by the shade,
In this bright world where now I swaying stand
I am a soul from hell, to heaven strayed.
To look up to the sky and see it blue!
To breath the air of spring and smell it sweet!
To live upon the ground - is to be new,
To be once more a child at morning's feet.
I bless my exile in that hollow earth.
Only the patient dead can know rebirth.
O trees that stand so sharp against the sky
Wearing your willow-weeds of winter black,
Thin fingernails that scratch perplexedly
Against the clouds that border heaven's track.
Do you remember, trees, your hands were full
Green leaved and loaded with the branches weight?
When you swung heavy to the young sap's pull
Rocking as children on the springtime's gate?
O trees, do you regret the months of life,
The year, that started with the first bud's birth?
Your leafy clothing, sheared by winter's knife
Now brown and rotting on the iron-hard earth?
Bare trees bereft, beside the frozen stream,
Do you remember trees, or do you dream?
I saw the heavens open on the sea,
That old grey monster curling round earth's feet.
I saw the rains as swords sweep in their glee
Across his smoothness, as he lay replete
Heavy with life under his oily skin;
The fluid storehouse of a secret past
Guarded and locked and rocking safe within
His darkened depths, in watery bands held fast.
I saw his strength against the sky's attack;
And yet how passively he guards his own.
For though rain's bullets sting his glistening back
They meet their likeness, marry, merge and drown.
Familiar fetters forge the strongest chains.
Kin swallows kin as sea the summer rains.
O music swamp the singing of my heart,
Pour out your notes and drown my little tune.
Give me the whole; for I am but a part,
My song a quaver in an age-old rune.
Spill out your magic, wash my score-chapped hands.
Lap me around with one encircling note.
Cut out my tangled life's melodic strands,
Choke out the discords from my blackened throat.
Music, I love you; so I hate my song,
Though if I loved you less I'd sing it loud.
Hearing your voice, my own croaks cracked and wrong
Though once in ignorance I carolled proud.
O music, make me deaf; let earth's sounds cease
So I may hear your thundering chords in peace.
I would not write to write of what I would
To draw a tracing of good fortune's lines.
I could not speak of what I could,
Prison in speech to speak of love's sweet unspoken signs.
My pen puts period to pleasures past,
My words write epilogues for passion's play.
The first line written presages the last
And words weight thoughts with earth's thick-coating clay.
So I will write of all but what I will,
Print a parenthesis to prison pain,
Fill up my pages from my fount of ill
Till in my book a lifetime's griefs lie slain.
But of my love to write? Oh no, not I.
Lock up my love in words and watch it die?
Pain I can bear and poverty and grief,
Rejected talent and the lack of friends,
And I can greet that sweetly smiling thief
Who steals my hours for blameless duty's ends.
Yes I can lose my life to time's demands
Stretched out and crucified on care's clock-hands,
And I can scurry at some fool's commands
And treat as steel his flimsy paper hand.
Chained from my birth, in prison I was bred,
My wings were clipped before their feathers grew.
Captive and caught and by a drawstring led
From pen to pen, old gaol to dungeon new.
Yet I, fast ringed by living's petty bars
Sing from my sanded cage-floor to the stars.
I fear the darkness and the fading light.
Worse than the midnight is the twilight's start.
At each day's end as life's flame dips to night
Death writes a little prologue in my heart.
Each day a sketch of life; each morning, youth.
Each noon, ambition's stage, lit by the sun
Till talent, pricked by envy's vampire tooth
Sinks limp and spent in failure's prison run.
To live each day as though it were my last
I am commanded for my dear God's sake,
So neither light nor darkness bind me fast
Since both are dreams from which I'll soon awake.
But God, each day to me is as my first.
Each morning born, each evening cold and hearsed.
Blest life, blest spring, blest beauty and blest truth
Blessed the morning when your love first smiled.
This resurrection into joy's bright youth
Your love has bought and death is reconciled.
Blessings and love are now forever mine
As if from round my cradle-willow ranged.
As one fair May makes March and April fine
So retrospect my leaden past has changed.
Love's strength so fierce removes in half a day
All memory of days when love was not,
Makes them its own and in my record's way
Builds monuments to joys my heart forgot.
Forgot or nonexistent, who can tell?
You say that they were mine so all is well.
Who needs this golden-girt, superfluous sun?
Who needs this extra radiance on the day?
Nature continues light, by love begun,
Flatters the stage, but did not write the play.
Against the sparkling backdrop of the sky
Love's painted players drift across the stage,
Their little lines speak independently
Alike of heaven's smiles or heaven's rage.
Who cares if storm clouds turn the blue to black
Or if the actors' tears are mixed with rain?
What if they drown the thunder at their back
By ranting louder than the storm's refrain?
Nature despised, as love plays from the heart,
Lovers applaud, however poor the art.
To live a moment is to live an age,
The first breath to the last are drawn the same.
One dying sigh will calm a lifetime's rage,
Both are but gestures in the same sad game.
The lips must move whether to smile or groan
And eyes grow wet with laughter or with grief.
A flower or weapon by the same arm thrown
And words but tongue-twists, be they long or brief.
Nothing we have is new, nothing our own,
Each song has been by other singers sung.
The freshest thought that latest hope has grown
Was old when the first man's desire was young.
Yet those grim engines that all bodies move
Stop for an instant at the shock of love.
Love must be lost if love is not to lose,
Love's bonds be loosed to loop in tighter bands.
Love must let love a newer loving choose,
Love's hands unhandily tie lovers' hands.
Love must be spent before it can be stored,
Love's coin the gold that only spendthrifts save.
Love must go bankrupt for his miser's hoard,
Love's gain increasing with the alms love gave.
Love must be cold if love is not to cool,
Love's heat be tempered or distemper breed.
Love must in folly stoop to save love's fool,
Love's heresy reform love's crumbling creed.
Love laughs in paradox at living's laws,
Love their undoing, yet love was their cause.
I am reproached for writing of my love
That draws a daily tribute from my pen.
This loving proved, my loving friends reprove,
The roosters mock the drab and clucking hen.
Yes I'm a loser in the pecking race
And dip my beak obedient to the line
Love's farmer chalked, that ties me to this place
And keeps me prisoner in his yard's confine.
They slight my love a though my love was slight
And feather-like, by gales of laughter blown
Out of my heart would float, and out of sight
Till that which owns my self, myself disown.
But love removed, who would my fingers move?
Love's right that is; so I must write of love.
Love painted flowers on my prison's wall
Plaited with leaves each window's iron bar.
Love gave me space although my cell was small,
Fed me on nectar from a meadow far.
Love brought the hills into a concrete square,
Bathed me in waters from an upland stream,
Called nature laughing in upon the air
To charm the captive with a noonday dream.
Love pushed these bounds out to the wide world's end
Till all the universe my cell contained,
Love brewed of light and air a heady blend
To fill my soul, by drought and duty drained.
Love laid all life into my prisoner's room
To hold me fast, contended with my doom.
Sleep on, sleep on, stay on the side of dark,
Stay safely lapped under the heaving wave.
Ride on in peace, forget the bobbing ark
Of empty consciousness, that daylight gave.
For it is quiet underneath the night
Sunk deep and fast, too black for any dream.
Too low to see dawn's fishes in their flight
Towards the morning in their silvery stream.
And it is still and safe below the weeds
That quiver gently upwards from the bed
Of unplumbed ocean, bubbling seaweed's beads
Drawn up like dancers, to the surface led.
Stay in sleep's shaded waters of the deep
For hooks await day's darting fishes' leap.
Time's weight sits heavily upon my back
Bending me down, dragging my slowing feet.
I wish the bit would ease, the reins run slack
Or turn me home and not towards the Meet.
For I am tired; a dull discouraged nag,
Though still subservient to the kicking heels
That tell my pace to hurry or to lag;
My gait still follows what my old flank feels.
O to be young, new foaled and running free
Beside my dam in some far distant spring,
The luscious grasses reaching to my knee
And waving with my first shy coltish fling!
But bridled now, obedience all he knows,
Ridden by time, old age a-hunting goes.
I rage against this passing of my years
Although pain past’s to present pain preferred
And griefs once gone drain off the well of tears
And aching woe’s from now, to then, transferred.
I am ungrateful for your mercies, age.
I hate the healing that your full hours bring,
Despise the clouds that blur my memory’s rage,
Fear your false peace that smothers sorrow’s sting.
Give me back youth, when every hurt was fresh,
Give me back feeling, when all wounds were green,
Give me back love, let the sword pierce my flesh,
Give me back morning and the might-have-been!
For anguish-dulling age creates new pain;
As love’s hurts fade, age aches to love again.
Contentment is my spirit’s afternoon,
Sweeter than morning, safer than the night.
A drowsy moth, I broke the thin cocoon;
A golden butterfly, I flutter light.
These are the hours when nothing stirs the mind
When thought itself sinks dazzled by the sun
To join that sleeping self beyond the wind,
The self that was, before each day began.
Slower than joy, faster than tears, the hours
Run smoothly, blandly, undisturbed and even;
Empty of clouds or breeze, sheltered from showers,
Brighter than earth, less glittering than heaven.
Stilled, steeped and settled in serenity
Needless to do, to dream, enough to be.
O sun embrace me with your arms of fire,
Feed me with flames from your spark-showering heart!
Lord of the noon, draw up my kindled spire,
My little heat, my hopeful swallow’s dart
Into your own immensity of light.
Call up my brush-torch through the glittering air
From red earth-thickened flame refine, enlight
My darkened warmth with your unshuttered stare.
My little comforts, my heart’s bunkered coal
That warms the kitchen of my curtained life,
Burn them, obliterate my blinking soul,
Cut it across with your beamed laser knife.
Star god, sun god, great spirit of the sky
I would be yours, so let my own flame die.
Shall I forsake you for the smiling throng,
Break from your hold to link arms with the crowd?
Reject this daily toil that made me strong,
Sink in ease, forget that once I vowed
To make each hour a breathing sacrifice,
To make each day a ceremonial psalm
Sung to the swinging censer’s metred spice,
An age-old chant of immemorial calm?
Shall I cut off my cloistered habit’s serge
And lay soft fashion’s silk against my skin?
Douse discipline’s descant on duty’s dirge
In the world’s wine and join the dancers’ spin?
Yes! Though come death, damnation, come decay,
I will have lived if only for a day.
Another spring! Another winter past,
Another stirring of the settled dust.
Another pang at years flown by so fast,
Another scraping at time’s thickening rust.
Another May with ruffled blossoms white
Another waking to the cuckoo’s call.
Another pointed swoop of swallows’ flight,
Another rose crept up the lichened wall.
Another promise in the warmer air,
Another hoping carried on the breeze,
Another covering leaf for bare-barked care,
Another sweetness murmoured by the bees.
Another bud nipped off by frosty truth,
Another love but not another youth.
O love that flickers at the end of time,
A star beyond the furthest edge of space
Winking at sky’s high mysteries sublime
Lightening eternity with your twinkling face!
I saw the great night sky and felt afraid,
So vast, so black, inhuman and remote.
Death on my heart his icy finger laid
Pulled panic’s cord round my constricted throat.
I shivered, frozen, fettered and alone
Held by the midnight’s unrelenting spell,
A speck of grit, into this body grown,
Pulled by the stellar cold magnetic spell,
Then that far, furthest star its signal gave,
A fleeting smile that lit the heavens’ grave.
The cold corpse candles in procession wave
Rising and falling with the mourners’ march.
The world bears beauty’s bier towards the grave
Under the cemetry’s sad stone-faced arch.
Come back, come back! Before the hole is filled,
Come back, come back! Before the earth is thrown.
Come, nurse the ghosts of smiling lives you killed,
Settle our shrouds before you wind your own.
Or take us with you as your faithful choir,
Let us attend you on your final flight;
Into the ending let us still aspire
To serve in death the goddess of delight.
Beauty, you took our sight, our speech, our sound.
Now take our shells to God or to the ground.
All I remember, who remembers me?
Who could recall the insubstantial shade
That passed on through the laughing company,
The one no glances sought, no hands delayed?
My life is such that I might not have been;
No gain, no loss; no honour, no disdain.
Unnoticed, unregretted and unseen
I entered, left, returned to tread again
The crowed rooms of life, the bright abodes
Of living warmth. An unsuccessful ghost,
Driven to gibber on dark moorland roads
And to the driving winds and hail play host.
I could not coax a smile or draw a tear.
Sunk to a spectre, I inspired no fear.
Will wills that law will laugh, so laugh law will;
But will will laugh and join law's law of mirth?
Or will will, though unlawful, will's goodwill
Unwilling will law's new law's unlawful birth?
Will's will will willingly law's lawyer be,
Lawfully willed; though willfully outlawed
If will's ill-will will still unwillingly
Law's lawful law unlawfully will flawed.
For all law's laws on willing will depend,
And law will laugh if will this law will will;
That law, though willed by law, law's will will bend.
And to will's will law's laws will will no ill.
Law wills all wills to will his own will's law.
Will's laws will law to will, self-willed in law.
I write though no-one reads. I will not stop,
I will climb on to reach the secret place,
The god who dwells upon the mountain top,
The stream, the rock, the dark cave's hollow face.
I climb with words, with thoughts, with staves of song.
I climb alone, for who would walk with friends
To slow the pace or point the signpost wrong?
The hermit's path winds up, the crowd's descends.
I climb because I dare not turn and look
To see the drop between my dream and earth.
My words are footholds in life's hard-faced book,
Their edge my ice axe and my rope their worth.
For I believe, though wisdom shuns the peak,
Its snows will melt before the fools who seek.
When the spring dances and the sun beats strong
And earth relaxes in the south wind's thaw,
Then pain awakes and then again I long
To see that model that I dare not draw.
In the hard winter love and longing slept
And grief lay frozen, numb beneath the snows.
Ice checked the tears that thin December wept,
Set them like pearls in sorrow-studded rows
To decorate your arctic angel's face
With hardened brilliants, jewels of the cold.
Now warmth is melting all this frosted lace
And naked as a leaf your lines unfold.
Spring sun melts winter's ice-encrusted jewel
But heart's ice turns to tears, and tears are cruel.
I have cried out so often at love's pain
That I have fancied my life's health its ill,
So tried to fight that ache that once again
Staves off sweet sleep and drains contentment's will.
I have resisted dear devotion's dreams
Of paradise, where I was not alone.
Denied what is, maintained it only seems,
Like visions warm, to show that other one -
That truth, that holds my heart, as empty air,
As self-delusion of a desolate soul.
But reason, reared in love, denies despair,
The half rebels, trusting the blessed whole.
The more I mock at love that cannot last
The more my fingers shake, my heart beats fast.
Come shadow-shapes that people evening's world,
Come you grey choruses of twilight's play;
Come bats, with light-cramped wings by dusk unfurled,
Come wheeling round the lost frontiers of day.
Come gloworms, pick the deep lane's tunnelled road,
Come owls, shriek out black midnight from the barn;
Come stars, shower on night your silver load,
Come white-flocked mists, blanket the inky tarn.
Come nature's vault, pale lovers' lampit room,
Come reason's sleep, frail dreamers' wakening;
Come cushioned dark, soft footstool of the tomb,
Come dust, disturbed and shaken, sing!
Come sleepy sluggard, draw that earth-filled breath;
Come body's dusk, come doomed love's dancing death.
Shall I incur your smile or your disdain
In writing this long story of my love?
My lips wreath patterned lies, my heart speaks plain,
The mask slips off, the nervous fingers move;
The pen runs on, scratching the lines of truth
Across the smooth deception of my face.
The paper reaps the ruin of my youth,
Ink points the perils of a lost embrace.
All words I write are yours, so will you say
If burned or blazoned to the world they be?
I have no judgement but your jesting play,
I have no time; you have eternity.
I am a little shadow and I run
Hurried and helpless round your scorching sun.
Past. Past the stinging point of compassed pole,
Past the magnetic pull, the needle wet
With old tears' ice. Past dead joy's crater-bowl
Past pain's periphery, to new stars set.
To freedom's winds I'll furl my ragged sail
In sorrow's swell my rotting cargo shifts;
From salted scuppers' swill the draught I'll bale
As from despair's dull depths my tired hulk lifts.
Past. Past the anguish of that older road,
That slaves' slow caravan across love's sands.
Better cold seas than the dry desert's load,
Henceforth I travel light, with empty hands.
I have dragged dreams upon my back; at last
They fall as dust. My load is passing - past.
Some poets' words are rocks against the sea,
Black and immense, unquarried, hewed or cut.
Others are smooth, and sliding easily
As silvered sands cushion the wearying foot.
Some are the raging of the autumn's gales
The snarling voice that thunders and commands.
Others the summer winds that fill the sails
Of careless seafarers in warmer lands.
Some poets' words are polihed as a jewel
Gleaming and glittering in an ancient crown;
Others, as circus beasts, roar, caged yet cruel,
Or scamper, masked and grinning like the clown.
Some with their words the earth and heaven move
Others unknown sing only for their love.
When the heart speaks then silence is perfect,
Uncracked by words yet filled with voiceless song.
Silence alone is void, virgin, subject;
Passive receiver of this right, that wrong.
Silence is saved from harm by love's soft sigh
That takes the room that might have housed a curse,
And hearts that break alone, without a cry,
Find in soft silence's arms a kindly hearse.
No words, no jerkings of the pain-tight lips
Only the deep communing of the soul.
Only a tear into your dark silence dips
And is salt silence's sea is lost, is whole.
Saved from the swords of speech, see silence move,
Open her arms to speechless, wordless love.
Writing of love covers each page with tears,
Speaking of love unlooses golden rain
Dropping like notes of music from the spheres,
Leaving a longing till is sounds again.
Yet sparkling words their colours lose in print,
Visions of dreams lie flattened on the page
Narrow and dark, as from a leper's squint,
The written view of dreams that moved an age.
So speech, airy and free, should be love's art,
Leave the unwritten, those great lines of thought;
To pen the butterfly's rose-fluttering dart
Buries it, crushed, by poison-bottle caught.
Do not record love's light winged summer brief;
Writing of love brings but lovee's death, and grief.
Yet I must write and risk the world's reproach
For having scarred your face with my sad lines.
I am unworthy yet I must approach
As sin-stained pilgrims crawl towards their shrines.
Does the dark worship of a sullen soul
Ashamed, rebellious, heavy as earth's hod
Dragged to its knees by love's magnetic pole
Offend the crystal radiance of God?
Beauty must reap the homage of the plain
As morning bears the last sighs of the night.
To touch perfection is to leave a stain
Yet many shades make up the light's pure white.
So I have marked your beauty for a while
And though the world may rage I see you smile.
Farewell my fiend, my model, my despair.
farewell bright wandering star that led me on.
Farewell that grace that I could never share,
Farewell my master; I will soon be gone.
To you I leave the pieces of my heart
That cracked against the diamond of your fame.
To you I leave these trifles of my art,
My paper flowers that droop their heads in shame.
To you I leave my longing and my dreams,
By you inspired, in you their whole delight,
To you I leave my little spark that gleames
Round all fools' heads; haloes of others' light.
All that I am is dust under your feet;
But dust clings to your shoe - at last we meet.
Can I fly broken-winged towards a star
Carry my cripple's crutch into the air?
Be bird or man, the body's brake is there
And for the injured heaven seems twice as far.
Flawed matter drowns me, yet I have a spar
To cling to, gasping, in this sea's despair
Until the storm is past and death blows fair
His carrying breeze. No weighted flesh to mar
My pathway upwards, easily and light.
Then, when I float, forgetting all my wounds
I will look down in gratitude on pain
That held me up through living's endless night.
Pain keeps me wakeful, so I hear the sounds
Of rescue coming, when I break my bounds.
Blue waters picture fresh and flecked with white
Angled and chequered by a diving gull.
The creak of tar-boards and a splashing scull,
A sheltered cove lapped in the evening light.
all that I see before me as I write
Draws on my heart with the insistant pull
Of home's long fingers. Then this alien lull
Becomes the false oblivion of wine,
Dulling the real, the fresh, the morning song
Of native sailors in their native seas.
This land is lovely but it is not mine
And for a grey and granite coast I long.
Far skies smile bliss; home 's hard-worked plot yields ease.
So climb the Spanish Steps with heavy feet,
This Scala Santa of each faithful fool
Who comes to feel past agony; to drool
And fill that pain-stained room by fame washed sweet.
It is the poet that you come to greet?
The voice that charmed the dipping dolphin's school,
That coaxed a dryad from her rock lined pool,
That spoke the triumph of a life's defeat?
Or do you hear the coughing in that room,
The harsh cacophany of nights of sweat,
And, healthy, bring your offerings to sick grief?
What of the man, sunk light-filled in his tomb
Who paid in blood a non-existent debt?
Your leaden lives are long; his gold glowed brief.
Shelley, that soul strayed from another star,
The stranger spirit from a lighter earth;
Of thinner matter spun,who at his birth
Shone for a time through flesh, which could not mar
Even with life, or with time's muddied scar
The beauty that etherialised the earth,
That set the standards for an alien worth
Measured by spheres, in heaven's computing far.
Incomprehensible, that flawless face;
Incomprehensible, that weightless soul,
Disjoined, ahead, above the human shape
Hurrying behind, toll once met, face to face,
Before the end; the prisoner's sweet parole.
Look on mad Shelley men, then kneel, or gape.
I saw the moon bright red and dripping blood,
I saw the sun shrink black and shrivel dry.
I saw the heart fall from the gaping sky.
I saw the wounds of heaven's welling flood,
I saw their waters thicken into mud.
I saw that mud smooth as eternity,
I saw life swallowed in it, like a fly.
I saw earth in it, black, a withered bud.
I saw annhilation in a dream,
I saw dark chaos swirling in a swoon,
I saw my soul light as a buzzing midge,
I saw it drop into an oil-dark stream;
I saw black walkers in a shadeless noon,
I saw space sundered. I saw Coleridge.
A boy drops out of life and into fame,
Falls in the morning from the heights of time
Scaled in an instant. Not for him the climb
Of measured years to leisurely acclaim,
But one brave spring that left him spent and lame,
Wounded and broken, shattered yet sublime.
A reckless youth who gambled on a rhyme,
A pauper perished in a luckless game.
Who held such promise for so short a space?
Fled in the dawn, yet, strange, remembered still
For that one summit touched, through all the years.
Dead, with a swagger and an unlined face
Chatterton lies. Smile on his broken quill;
He is too heedless and too young for tears.
I see white islands set like chips of stone
In the smooth pavement of a glass-blue sea,
Flat and immobile, for the winds are free
To roam at will and so away have blown.
Elsewhere their torments and their tempers thrown
Leaving all motionless, set in suspension; key
In glazed casket-lid, bright fixity
Sealed in a stillness. Heaving earth alone
This one scene holds apart and does not move
Her restless bulk to shift the pattern set
By peace's placing and by quiet's hand.
It breaks my heart; for if I dare to prove
And enter beauty's hour, the blue slops wet,
The white dissolves. Grey seas lick dirty sand.
I am afraid that I shall never hear
The only song that lightens the loaded earth
And turns the sighs that follow us from birth
Into a peal of bells. This is my fear,
To go through life unloved, to no-one dear.
To be shut out from light and joy and mirth,
To wander weeping round the great world's girth
With none to know I ever shed a tear.
I am a nomad on the plain of days
Trailing my starving herd of dreams, I roam
The years flat steppes. Sometimes at night I see
In the far distance a thin smoke trail raise
From other travellers' fires, that they call home,
Knowing their warmth will never welcome me.
Call me, sweet death, and see how I will come
Skipping and running like a merry child.
And do not think this midnight-raving wild,
As it would be for most; but there are some
Who hear the chatter and the harrassed hum
Of life too loud, whose poor ears long for mild
And soothing silence, still and undefiled,
Where being beats its harsh insistent drum.
Lead me down lanes of lilies to the tomb
Then lock me in and leave me there to rest,
My work unfinished and my books unread.
Fold me into that safer, deeper womb;
Of all the mothers tenderest and best
In your cool waters rock my aching head.
See how the angels fall! Celestial rain
Landing as silver feathers, light and curled
As when those far-off clouds of battle swirled
Around the spheres. In hosts they come again,
Sleet-lightening lances, pricking men to pain,
Piercing the thickness of the heavy world.
See how their banners, airily unfurled
Announce the ending of the curse of cain!
See cities sway and fall into the seas
That boil and curdle, bursting from their tides'
Age-old restraint, to cover all with foam.
See earth's shell crack, her red heart gape, then freeze
Into glacial tear. Down heaven's face slides
Man's last remorse for what was once his home
A stranger stands behind the farthest star
Of the last galaxy beyond the night.
I do not know him though his face is bright
And in my dreams I see him from afar
But never near. Between us looms the bar
Of universes blinking in their might.
Sky's mountain ranges, cold from height to height,
Vast and remote. Stretch out a hand and jar
But for an instant, God, complacent space!
Shake up the pattern, tilt the proud poised spheres,
So I can see and know, and being known,
Bathe in the smile from that resplendent face.
Then come the darkness; my remaining years
Will need no stars, I'll see by love alone.
The song is ended and the singers dead,
The strings that plucked at joy now lie in rust
Among the thinner insubstantial dust
Of past musicians, in that silent bed
That cushions corpses. Some sang for their bread
Some for their loves and others for their lust
And some, the best, who sang because they must.
Now all their tinkling's done and all are fled.
Music, remember them, and in the night
By some cold-embered hearth let them again
In essence still, poor ghosts, some thin tune play.
Under the hill the rising music's flight
Will ease their idleness and soothe their pain
For if they sing they'll fancy it is day.
Some spirit stirs the seed to sprout again
And pulls it upwards till the air is won.
The mole awakes, as though dark tunnels run
Whispers of spring and grasses bright with rain.
Some signal pulsingthrough the black earth's brain
Propels him to the surface, where the sun
Warms his blind eyes. Another life begun
Washes off winter's sleep and darkness's stain.
Pulled by the regularity of unseen tides
Life ebbs and flows, sinks low and wells in spate
Obedient to a force none hear nor see.
Blinking, uncomprehending, man confides
His fortunes to a chain that is not fate
But some thin thread spun from eternity.
I breathed before, but in some other frame
The air revolved to turn my body's wheel.
An earlier brain first taught my heart to feel
And for my sins in older self's to blame.
How did I injure you, that I am lame
In this my present lodging? Shall I kneel
And beg forgiveness? Did I hurt or steal
To bear this stigma of my past ill fame?
How can I weep for what I have forgot?
To take my memory is to deny
My part as villain in that twisted plot
That stretches back to some first infant's cry.
I know but what I am; what I was not
Or where I failed, is shuttered from my eye.
Strike up your fiddle, death, and stamp your feet
Call to the company that crowd the room,
Let there be dancing till the crack of doom
And let us drink while still the wine is sweet,
And join our hands and let our kisses meet
Our partners' lips, and with that joy perfume
The scented minutes, till the dark consume
Our happiness. So let us jump and eat
Off pleasure's plate, and let there always be
A ball in hell. So when our steps wind down
That last descent we'll trip with gaiety
And not look back, nor upwards, for the frown
Of serious heaven's not for such as we;
And in the flames we'll wear our newest gown.
I heard a voice that travelled down the wind
Warming the north with whispers of the sun
Which with its singing pricked my heart to run
Unchecked and beating and in haste to find
The beauty that has struck my senses blind,
The island where the song was first begun.
O Sappho, star of poets, you have won
The kiss of heaven. From the eternal mind,
Borne by the elements along the sea,
Or by the gods sent spinning through the air
A spirit charged your music with its power
To light the fire and set is running free
Around the earth and sky. For you are there
In each pierced instant's bliss or quiet-charmed hour.
Under the feathered leaves I'll hide away.
Guilty in Eden, I will turn my face
Away from you and drag my dark disgrace
Into the shade. I cannot face the day
Of love's hot noon and the sun's darts that slay
My little senses in their franctic race
Against the pull of your cruel fire's embrace
That would force from me words I must not say.
I shall live hidden, love, then in the dark
weave me a blanket to wrap round my tears,
Cover my weeping head, wander away;
For on my forhead they have set the mark
That brands the exile, and my poor heart fears
Repentance lost again if I should stay.
Pit for love consumes me as I write,
Pity for passion's heat that always dies
Pity for new love's hopes that always rise,
Pity. For trust in dark love's treacherous might
Turns love to pity, and the loveless night
Of disillusion blacks the clouded skies
Heavy with memories of love's sparkling lies
That lit the path to folly and to flight.
For love is transient, restless, short of time,
Pressed by the sharpest prick, its own decay,
That ever-present fear, that shallow rhyme
That jangles music's heart and mocks the play
Of heaven-kissing chords, till the sublime
Spark of the earth is stifled in earth's clay.
God sits, immortal, in a lump of coal.
He winks unmoved through the steel needle's eye,
Breathes through the pig dung of the farmyard sty,
Pours with the blood from the fresh bullet-hole
Whose spent metallic case contains his soul,
Which foolish man will not believe and cry
Indignant blasphemy. God's in the sky!
In spirit, yes, but not of earth the whole,
The only matter natural or made.
Designed for good or evil, faith or greed,
The motive immaterial. Now fade
All solid things into one single deed
From galaxies down to a goose-grass blade
Into one substance; thinking, timeless speed.
Come to the last hour with me, cruel time,
Keep your cold hand in mine; we are not friends
But forced companions. How your dark head bends
To catch my words, black critic of mymime,
Bored listener doomed to hear my faltering rhyme
And, though you sneer, must hear it till it ends
In chocking silence, as the goat track bends
Up to the airless summit of the climb.
Time, you have been my shadow every day
Darkening each beam of sun against your glass
That has distorted and obscured light's ray.
Made me see gravestones on the early grass,
Made me hear crying when the children play.
Now at the end I stay, I live; you pass.
Reborn; Womb-damp and heaven-wrinkled, new.
Laid in green Eden rushes, naked, free,
Kicking my infant legs. My happy mew
Creation's Kitten's cry. Again to be,
To breathe, to live, to know once more, to feel
The new adventure started, is to steal
Out of the blefried spheres my own sweet peal
That follows, ringing, all my misted way
Carols of home. Sounding through future years
My individual note, and I will play
My life's chime true to it; for new birth hears
A higher song than later ages sing
And first-heard notes, dislodged from heaven, bring
Floating, a feather from an angel's wing.
Nothing endures but love of God, and art.
All other things are killed byt time and age.
But God has given to my aching heart
A voice to temper pain and panic, rage
And freezing fear's thin blade. I move in time
Ageing but clinging to my little rhyme
This straw of sense that senses the sublime.
God's love alone would give me ease and calm
The shrill calamity of restless life,
and art alone can spread its tinctured balm
Over the sores of slowly festering strife.
But God and art together are the moon,
The sun, the planets, stars, the sugared spoon
Held to my lips. The cure, the bliss, the boon.
I see the faces of the restless dead
Crowding about me, dipping, darting, dumb,
They mill their mute confusion round my head
Till I am dizzy and my hands are numb
With their cold kisses. Or is it the air
That chills my arms, stretched out to touch their hair
In hopeless longing? For they are not there
For me to feel and yet I clearly see
Them sweetly smiling, full of life and power,
A teeming multitude, they call to me
Though they are silent as a snowflake shower.
The dead have strange conventions, and the rules
That guide their flirting are too fine for fools
Like me to grasp. Rough life has coarser schools.
Now you are gone for ever I am gay,
Now you have left the earth I'm free from tears
At last, and weeping's ended, for you stay
Beside me now for ever through he years.
How I would beg you for a moment's grace
To take the edge off parting, for a space
Postpone the anguish of your absent face,
And how I would implore you on my knees
For one more kiss after our love-torn night,
To stop my cries; but you would laugh and tease
And shrug your careless way out of my sight.
But now upon my eyes your kisses fall
And through eternity my name you call.
My thoughts make me your love, your light, your all.
Hell stops with death and heaven stops with birth.
Breath is the barrier and the parting edge
We must step over twice to bridge the girth
Of suffering's well; and with our dark nets dredge
Earth's river bed. Then, heavy, strike again
Up to the surface, where a lightening rain,
Air's breath condensed, will wash away mud's stain.
Breath is the regulator of our clock
It's only rhythm and its only key.
Breathe in; lock up in flesh; unlock
That last lung's load: pass outward, lightened free
To roam the airless plains, the breathless road
Of unmarked being. Neither choked nor slowed
By heavy hell; reach, singing, our abode.
I have been to the ending of the world.
It is a little place of stones, all grey,
Poised over nothingness. I hurled
A pebble down; it did not drop away
But floated upwards like a feather light,
Spread out, unfurled, and steady in its flight
Puffed by an unseen breath, passed out of sight.
I will go back one day to the world's edge
And through my weighted self into that deep
But first pick up two pebbles, and so fledge
A pair of wings to save me if I sweep
Plummeting down. If my flesh cannot fly
The little stones will lift me to the sky
And we will get to heaven, my wings and I.
Why is all music but the greatest sad?
For every drinking song is choked with tears
And love songs twist the heart till it grows mad
And crazed with longing. Martial drums beat fear's
Tattoo upon the soldier's pounding heart
And whirling dances tear the nerves apart,
Splinter life's bones and toss them on the cart
Of plague-killed corpses. For sick music's throat
Coughs up harsh discords from the bursting lung
Heaving for heaven's chord, for one deep note
To swamp trite melodies so sweetly sung.
Beware the trivial tune; it brings disease
To touch a cheerful key. It does not please,
That ring o' roses, while the hedgerows freeze.
Call the bell-soundings of the darkest deep
Pull on the lines and send the diver down.
Silently swimming through the waters' keep
Into the glass-walled courts of ocean's town.
Along the narrow alleys of the sea
Winding through rock and weeds as fishes flee
In shoals before the strange monstrosity.
So I sway, slow and clumsy, through my world
A strayed intruder from another state
And element of being, line unfurled
And taut behind me, my life's pulling weight.
Deep, deep I sink, far from my crewmates. Here
I roam another country with my gear
Managed elsewhere. I dive; they haul, they steer.
Through all these years I have not died from pain
Though there were times I would have gladly slipped
My cargo on the ebb-tide fleet, the grain
Of suffering loaded, and my anchor slipped.
But no, I could not die, I had to saty
Chained to that table where the grey fates play
With souls for counters till the reckoning day.
Through all the years I have not died from grief
Though there were times when I had no more tears
To bathe my spirit's wounds, but sorrow's brief
Is soon annulled in the dry court of years.
No pain or grief can touch me, I can prove
Invincibility; but if you move
Your hand on mine, then I may die of love.
The cruellest life has nothing to confess,
A pinched and petty soul picks out discreet
The middle way; the rocks of sinful stress
Well skirted by the path of prudent feet.
Throat-choking rage has never wrenched apart
The bland facade of calm, nor has the start
Of passion's sting jarred that harmonious heart.
It is not blasphemy to say that sin
Never approached, that battles never fought
Lead to a limbo, sighing with the thin
Sway of sad ships that never left their port.
Better to founder or to sink to hell
Beneath life's waters, or to ride the swell
Than die with nothing tried, nothing to tell.
The price of sin, how high is it for me?
And who will pay it if I cannot find
A coin in my purse? Who sets God's fee
Collects heaven's rent from those who fall behind?
The spring rain's owing the first rose redeems
As rain itself the snow's soft scapegoat seems
Dissolving with its tears cruel winter's schemes.
Nature has kept a balance we have lost,
An old computing through time's audit runs
In clarity and order, proved and crossed,
Dept cancels dept since the first clash of suns
In outer blackness, when our world was born.
Only one page, once from the ledger torn
Leaves man's account unpaid and overdrawn.
Out on the moors I know eternity,
That same remembered space I knew before.
My heaven lies lonely; no fraternity
Of souls or angels crowd this endless shore.
I am alone as I must always be,
No face or voice, so I am forced to see
Within myself my own soul's company.
The moors stretch far, far as that paradise
Contained within me, past my shuttered brain.
The images of truth and purpose rise,
The real companions, numberless as grain
Pouring in golden thousands through my hands.
All in each one, yet each can all contain,
Self-knowing as the smooth yet separate sands.
" O love, o love, o cruel, cruel love!"
How often since the world began, these words
Were cried by lovers to the heaven above
Unchanging, common, as the shape of swords.
There is no need for talent to adorn
Nor wit refurbish what love's use has worn.
Only cheap cloth will make love's uniform.
Only the crudest rhythmns match the beat
Of human hearts, and when those poor hearts break
Art hurls the broken fragments to the street
And in the gutter sprawls love's pauper's wake.
Oh no, love is not great, it is not fine;
It is the peasant sense, the people's sign
Scrawled on a backstreet wall; the bastard line.
Cold grey and silent rocks the wrinkled sea
Deep in the thrall of calm. An ancient face
With undercurrents of intensity
Still stirring secretly in some embrace
Far off and distant, yet whose shadows slide
Slippered and soft in past emotion's glide
Pulsating still to some cold passion's tide.
Placid yet lonely, shaded by the past
These waters paint the very skin of age,
At first sight dull and lifeless, but at last
Subtler in tone than reds of love or rage
Or glowing youth. This subterranean swell
Throws to the old sea's surface from time's well
Sunk in some treasured deep, the rich past's spell.
The saddest songs are always sung in spring
Not in the winter, huddled round the coal
Dulling from red to grey, while the rain's sting
Spits from the darkness. For man is a mole
Who digs and flattens out a tunnel deep
Into a shelter where his fears can sleep
And he has ease, while winds his nightwatch keep.
But he is prodded by the cruel sun,
Forced out into the light, blinking and black
To face reality. The spring's begun
And he must tense those limbs grown eased and slack.
Man howls his spring song of unanswered grief
Into the April green; light-fingered thief
Who takes his home, his haven, his relief.
Drawn into air's space, kestrel-hovering, high
Light, lifted, launched, shot upwards, caught
On a cloud's cushion, water-treading sky
Circus-highwire suspended, poised and taut.
Then down, down, dipping, diving, pounding blood
Banging my ears, lungs drowned, black terror's flood
Rushing to press me down into the mud,
The sticky matting of the Big Top's floor.
The smell of men and sawdust and the sky
Again so distant. Vomit at the roar
Of crowds applauding, though I did not die.
But maybe I will die tomorrow night
Then they can gasp or groan with all their might,
I shall not care. My soul will be in flight.
Find me, O God, for I cannot find you,
Though I have spent a lifetime in the search
And I have found that all you said was true
And that you show yourself to some in church,
To some in nature and to some in love.
To some in music or in physics prove
Unalterable, as worlds and planets move.
Some must become as children in your sight
To see your face; Others' intelligence
Leading to wisdom, draws them to your light.
What is my lack or my intransigence?
Some pride perhaps, or some self-pitying tear
Blinds me? I am so tired, God, so here
I'll wait. Find me, if you are near.
Sweet to be born under a friendly star,
Spoilt darling of the planets' nursery.
Lit from within by heaven's golden bar
That rays munificence from light's treasury.
I have seen such dear children of the sun.
No shadows follow their lives' golden run,
They live in noon, the smiling coin spun
By fortune in their favour. Round their heads
Protection hovers, holding light's own shawl
Woven by happiness with smiles for threads
To throw around them should a raindrop fall
Upon those faces for whom spheres have moved.
Light-years ago, in galaxies removed
From earth by aeons, they were known and loved.
Shame follows love, slow dragging like a chain
Fettered to feet that walked forbidden ways.
Heavy and leaden is the grinding pain
Of the scarred spirit in those sunless days
When love is seen and hated but, dear God,
Never forgotten. Sunk deep in this clod
That craves oblivion, planted in the sod
Of once-light matter, is that cruel seed
That will not die, and, shrivelled, swells with tears
Drinks up their salty rain. That living reed
Grows green again and unrepentant spears
Shoot to the surface, quick to feel the sun.
Shame's rusting fetters break. Grief's river run
Dissolves their iron, and a new love's begun.
The angels walk the city streets tonight
Golden and tall. Their are everywhere,
Filling the roads and pavements, while a flight
Of following cherubim thickens the air
Above the crescents and the flats. They pour
Through every mews and square, in every door
Their cold high voices still the traffic's roar,
For all is stopped. Only the angels pace
Shining and numberless, their great wings spread
In feathered clouds behind them, every space
Filled and vibrating to their throbbing tread.
And buildings crumble at the whispered word
Of one whose voice breathes out the cosmic chord,
The one who towers before them with a sword.
Stash away your Sitar, man
And blow your mind
With vibey silence.
Lie down, swinger
On your foul Festival, french-lettered field
And dream olympian dreams
Against foam-lined and stain-resistant clouds
That make a cushion for your flabby back.
For dreams fall thicker through the silence, man.
Put out your weed, yet smile that smile of peace
That comes from other grass.
Lie back and dream, and hear the sound: passively
Let it flow
Over you, into your soul.
Pop or the Underground, who’s singing now?
Who makes the sound?
Lie back, man, rest and shut your eyes
For bliss is safer if you cannot see the skies
And sound is sharper if you cannot see the sun,
And turning-in’s the only turning-on.
A little inward note that twangs the solar-plexus string
And booms in emptiness
Will drown your soul.
Deep, deep into the inner heart your rounded dreams will drop
While pot and acid crawl
Soft suspension swings;
The only drug that lasts,
The strongest drug of all.
Lie in the frenzied field, apart
And feed on dreams.
Then maybe sleep, but not too soon,
For you will weep
When you awake
For lost and lonely silence,
That came once
And played you music
In a trance. That held you in the meaning of your heart
Till sleep closed down
That jewelled casket lid.
So, when you start
Awake again, among the writhing crowd,
Dry those infrequent tears -
Get up and scream, and dance.
Greece is not golden: it is blue and white,
It is not curves or colours. It is lines
Cubes, angles, squares
And all the Mod. Art. dons’ best sherry party chatter
Failed painters’ pub-talk over the last Guinness
That should instead have gone to feed the gas
The only warmth their cold-chapped London fingers know.
Better the few bob spent on that last, quicker warmth
That sends them bed-sit homewards
But warm, and talking as they go.
Yet Greece is a sculptor’s country
Not a painter’s -
Unless an abstract
Which no one but the artist understands?
But – O Lucky one who made it!
His backers and the critics
Enlarge in liquid prose upon the meaning,
And swollen like bull-frogs
Inflated with a heady marl-pond gas
Stick their own blind-man’s-buff donkey tails
Ridiculously onto the canvas bland.
Greece does not come in colours but in light.
She has passed through the spectrum
Washed off the earthy ochres
Of the Italian apricot renaissance bloom,
Squeezed out the northern greens,
Laughed in the face of Africa
And with a restless hand
Dislodged the heavy, heaving tip
Of the jewelled oriental rubbish-heap.
She has reduced the patterns of the earth
To a blue background
And a few white lines.
For once the fools who dream up countries’ flags
Have got it right.
No stars or eagles: only blue and white.
White as the light
That bears all colours in itself, till if it choose
It will release each one
New-washed and dazzling from the womb
To dance along the rainbow’s road
To where the white is blue.
So white, the present light
Has taken and refined the dark past’s rays
And sent them, pure and clear, to meet the future.
Untrammelled and winged
The feet of Greece march straight
Into pure thought,
Out of the worms’ domain,
Towards bright heaven’s gate.
Greece is the skeleton that needs no flesh
Greece is the certainty that needs no faith
Harmony’s echo-ring through discord’s bars.
Greece is a goddess in a tattered cloak
Greece is a goat-track leading to the stars.
Greece is the refuse of the world thrown off
The greasy fat of living burnt away
Emotion’s waters dried
Lean and spare
A hunger at the belly
And the brain
Greece is a calloused foot, hardened and brown
Scarred by the flint-crust of a pitiless land,
Relaxed at evening by some white pillar’s base
Cradled and comforted by the bottomless blue
Of sky above
And of the sea beneath,
Duskily distanced from the hard noon’s pointing stare.....
Tracing a geometric pattern in the sand
But the sand is stony
And the foot is bare.
The following ballad refers to the patron saint of animals, St Francis of Assisi and of course to the crucifixion.
THE VERMIN TREE BALLAD
There is a clearing in the wood
And in it stands a tree,
A double cross board frame, propped up
By pointed pea-sticks three.
No buds nor blossom weight those boughs
By breeze blown tenderly
But death has pinned another fruit
To hang upon this tree.
For this is our gamekeeper’s wood
And this his gallows-tree
And he has pinned us to these boards
To serve authority.
For there come sportsmen to our woods
Who full of city’s glee
For fed and fattened pheasants shoot,
Of keeper’s husbandry.
For gamekeeper he guards the nests
From vermin such as we,
From stoat and weasel and from crow
And all our company.
For we are predators who eat
The sportsman’s pheasantry
And kill his chicks and suck the eggs
To feed our nursery.
Yet if we eat not then we die,
It is but destiny;
But if we eat then we are caught
And nailed on to this tree.
Yes, trap and gun and poisoned corn
And keeper’s terriers three
Have loaded rich with vermin fruit
His woodland gallows-tree.
He pins our corpses to the planks
And hums contentedly;
Then wipes the bloodstains from his hands
And goes home to his tea.
O now it is the woods grow dark,
We ache upon the tree,
With stiffening paws and splintering wings
We droop disjointedly.
O who in all the woods will heed
Our puzzled misery?
Or who will spare a sportsman’s tear
For vermin on their tree?
Yes we are vermin, carrion, pests,
We have no place to flee;
Outcast of all, our only home
Is keeper’s gallows-tree.
So falls the night, and then the moon
Comes up above the lea
And there is light to point our shame
Upon the vermin tree.
Then from the shadows steps a man
Who hops lopsidedly,
A little man in brown who comes
And lifts us from the tree.
His hands are torn as from a snare,
His feet move shakily,
And there is blood that is not ours
That drips about the tree.
He lifts us, though his hands are stiff
And frees us tenderly
And sets us laughing at his feet
And calls us joyously:
“Now brothers, sisters, go your ways
Into your woods run free
And live again, and turn your backs
On keeper’s gallows-tree.”
Now with a cry of joy we run
In precious liberty
Among the soft leaves of the wood
And flee the empty tree.
But as in joy we look once back
A light glows round the tree.
We see the little man in brown
Sink trembling on his knee.
And then a voice speaks from the light
That shines so blindingly:
“Brother Francis, lift me up
And nail me to the tree.”
Then high the bars of cross board point
Above the wintry lea
And higher than the Hunter’s moon
Soars keeper’s gallows-tree.
We crouch in silence on the leaves
For we are free, while all the world
Hangs on our vermin tree.
And all night long and evermore
We wander safe and free
And all the while another takes
Our place upon the tree.
Yes, stoats and weasels, foxes, jays,
All vermin, vermin we,
We roam the woods for evermore
In safety from the tree.
We met a stranger in the woods,
A gypsy look had he.
His skin was brown, his eyes were black
As from a far country;
He blessed us vermin at his feet
And salted tears shed he,
And told a tale of gamekeepers
In woods across the sea.
Yes, there were vermin in that land
So far across the sea,
By gamekeepers, upon a hill,
Nailed up on gallows three,
For there were gamekeepers, and he
Was vermin such as we,
And he had cursed with his last breath
Another on the tree;
But now he too, like us, roams safe
Among the woodlands free,
Save that he cannot bear for long
To lose sight of the tree.
For all the night his dark eyes turn
And lift towards the tree,
Where, while we play, another hangs
Alone in agony.
Then once he cried: “O vermin, pray
For keeper at his tea!
O grant him mercy when his soul
Hangs on that woodland tree!”
And once he cried: “That other one,
In paradise he be!”
Then threw himself upon the leaves
And wept most bitterly.
And once he said (but spoke so low
We heard confusedly)
That long ago they hung a god
Upon the vermin tree.
Yet all night long and evermore
We wander happily,
And brighter than the Hunter’s moon
The light around the tree.
And in that clearing in the wood
On boards and pea-sticks three
There hangs one that we do not know
Upon the vermin tree.
SILVER JUBILEE SONNET (Written on 01/05/1977)
Silver? Our nation’s silver’s black and stained.
Shall we pour treacle words on brightness lost?
Our empire grinned away – our fortune drained
To pay for follies? Apathy has tossed
Our gleaming past onto the bed of vice
And from that steaming heap see favourites shoot,
Coarse toadstools, plump with lust and avarice,
While honest plants wilt poisoned at the root.
But one pure life shames knaves and hags of hell,
One smile lifts up a people long dragged down
And one voice calls out like a silver bell:
“Hire-purchased coronets? I wear your Crown!”
The voice of Majesty, spotless, serene;
Bright shining star – Britannia’s Silver Queen.
Roy Jenkins was a major figure in British politics from the 1960s to 1990s. He was variously described as 'liberal', 'left'
'socialist', 'wet' and 'progressive'. When interviewed on TV he once shed a tear and the poem below refers to this event. The poem was written on 10/02/1976.
THE BALLAD OF JENKINS' TEAR
He is so good, so liberal
His mild eyes blink and peer
At lesser mortals, those who lack
His vanity’s veneer.
For he’s humane, compassionate,
His conscience is so clear
And down his cheek like glycerine runs
A sticky socialist Tear.
He weeps to see us choose free thought,
Free speech – but just you wait:
His banners are unfurling now,
Their motto: “Legislate!”
For laws pour from his eager brain
Thick, rancid as the corn
Flows from an old rat-nibbled sack
That trendies’ teeth have torn.
For they have fouled our English grain
Of truth, through ages sworn
And scattered all our heritage
And rights of Britons born.
But he’s a Rabbit, chased by Stoats,
What can he do but flee
And scatter as he runs new laws
To give them satiety?
Each Tear a law, each law a corpse
Of rights, security....
For Stoats to gobble, so delay
Their red-mouthed victory.
So laws flow out, for this, for that,
To keep red Stoats away
Run Rabbit Run! Poor liberal
Keeping that pack at bay!
His Tears flow on the Statute Book
To sprout in heaving heaps
Of nonsense-laws: but will they halt
The first Stoat when he leaps?
Not just the Stoats poor Rabbit fears
For deep within his den
Fattened and sleek, the Weasel waits
Secure at Number Ten.
So Rabbit’s forced to legislate
On this, the other, that;
But first make sure that Englishmen
Have got their lessons pat.
So learn Cloud Cuckoo lessons, all.
Learn Rabbit-Laws, and fear
That disobedience may provoke
The War of Jenkins’ Tear.
Learn what is right and what is wrong.
Turn justice upside down.
Dig your own grave (you’ll need it soon)
And so escape his frown.
There are no sins but patriotism
(They call that racism now)
And decency, and self-respect,
The rest? Well, it’s a wow!
My dear, you can do anything
And do feel quite at ease,
For Jenkins’ Tear will wash us all
As spotless as you please!
And he’s made laws to see we don’t
Miss anything that’s fun,
So name it – do it! That’s the line
And watch the Lemmings run.....
He’s actually made laws to prove
That all that’s wrong is right.
So do your thing- but have a care,
His teeth may sometimes bite.
For instance, your old grandmother
Got mugged the other day?
Well, keep your trap shut: don’t protest,
You’ll end in gaol that way.
Poor muggers, thugs and murderers
They can’t help what they do,
And Rabbit loves them. If you shout
He’ll make it worse for you!
That glycerine Tear flows just one way:
Towards the side of wrong,
And double standards are his rule
And cant his battle-song.
So you’re a sado-masochist?
That’s perfectly O.K.
But slap an 18-year-old thug?
He’ll have you put away.
Murdered your baby did you, luv?
Well now, go free, don’t yelp.
And if you do your others in
We’ll get you a Home Help.
It’s quite all right to rape and wound,
It’s fine to fornicate.
But opt out of a Union?
You’ll end at Traitor’s Gate.
You can stand up and shoot your mouth
(As long as you’re not white)
But – rudeness to an immigrant?
You’ll sleep in prison tonight.
You must feel love and sympathy
For every layabout.
But help a hard-taxed shopkeeper?
By God, you’ll be drummed out!
Students, illiterate and unwashed
May hold their childish feasts
Of blood and bile – but poor old Police,
They’re fascists brutes and beasts.
Weep for each Irish “patriot”,
Each death/ponce, murder/pimp.....
But sigh for a dead soldier?
Why, you’re a Colonel Blimp!
See tides of filth invade our land?
You must not gasp nor blink.
But call old Smith’s wife “Mrs”,
And you’ll end up in the clink.
The Sex Discrimination Act
Will set us all to rights.
Rabbit adores each hard-faced M/s,
On her he’s set his sights.
To keep the red Stoats happy, as
They tell the Commissars
That England has at last been driven
Behind the nut-house bars.
Put your “Gay” adverts in the press,
Solicit kinky chums.
But – ask for a “Charlady”?
You’ll be hung up by your thumbs.
Young men, you died in England’s wars
To save our homes, children, land?
Wives, sweethearts? Fools! You died for this:
“Abortion on Demand”.
Free speech, free press, free courts, all drowned
In trendy teardrops’ sludge.
Only one gallant landmark stands –
A tough old fashioned Judge.
The country’s broke, but what the hell?
Let millions go to waste
To squash by force all Englishmen
Into thick socialist paste.
“Feed them on nonsense!” Scream the Stoats,
Then they won’t fret or fear
At England’s growing weakness
As the red dawn draws near.
Weasel, relax. Rabbit – well done!
Saved by one treacherous Tear.
Clever indeed. While in the East
The tanks grind into gear.
Rachel Law sent this poem in honour of the 1972 Poet Laureate, Sir John Betjeman,
and a selection of her other poems, to John Betjeman and he wrote back on the 24th March 1979 giving her a contact at the BBC
in an attempt to get the BBC to publish her poems. He wrote in the letter: "It isn't often when something comes
out of the blue, that it is any good, but in this instance it is good and I would like to help..."
THE LATE POET LAUREATE
So Norman’s fish-knives are immortal now,
Apollo’s hand has touched Miss Hunter-Dunn.
Aldershot, teashops, Churches, all now bow
Their heads in mourning for a loving son.
An Englishman with such a foreign name,
He loved – taught poets what deep down they knew,
That there is suffering that stalks with fame
And shyness, rebuffs, burning jeers and spew.
All poets tread that path, but on the way
Some friendly word he had, encouragement;
Write on. Be true. Say what you have to say,
Be, if they laugh or if they cry, content.
Now with this genius he lies asleep.
He made us smile: Too kind to make us weep.
In the following poem the word 'nigger' appears. This was poetic license for dramatic effect and meant no disdain
or hatred. Indeed the context of the poem makes that clear. Rachel often spoke approvingly of the
struggle for 'freedom' or 'Uhuru' of those in former British colonies.
I am not a Norwegian with a sunburned face.
I am not a New Englander with thickened lips.
I am not an Englishman with crinkled hair
Nor a dark Swiss who walks with swaying hips.
No, from another branch of that first tree of life I sprang.
A branch in shadow, hidden from the sun.
A darker, richer sap seeped through these veins,
Dark as the earth. Strong, undiluted
By that whitening light
That fanned the frilly leaves on other sides
Into a pale beauty
Already lighter, freer.
While in the shade
The old black blood of earth
Rose, strong and slow
Ignored by light.
To make a thicker, heavier foliage,
A canopy against the treacherous sky,
To keep the black earth’s spirit
Safe in the shade.
Safe, under the darkening boughs
So black began.
Out of the first forests of the swamp I came
From the old black branch began.
So do not call me by your brother’s name,
For I am not, not I am not the same.
Black as the night,
Black as a nigger
Black as the Ace of Spades,
Look at my rolling eyes and feel afraid.
For I am the night.
I am the darkness that you dread.
I am the face that haunts your cocktail hour at noon.
I am the dark face that will not go away.
I am the inky tomb of space
That swallows up your pure, white, frightened moon.
Yet I am man,
Mortal and alone
As all men.
And afraid too,
As all men.
So do not call me by your brother’s name,
For I cannot, and must not, be the same
A blackened carbon of a Dane
Is an obscenity because it is not true.
For we are all afraid
It is our only link,
Our only common gene,
Drawn up through all the branches of that first cruel tree
That drew us from the earth,
Then shed us, dark and light,
As leaves to float away.
Away, alone, afraid,
Torn from our mother.
So we shall be afraid
Until we fall again
On to her breast
Truth comes at the end
When the leaves float home.
And only truth
Brings each light wanderer at last to settle
In his own place,
With his own tribe, at peace.
So do not call me by your brother’s name
Or I shall be homeless at the end.
For black I went forth
And black I am, will be.
And black, I suffer now
So that at the end
As black I go.
And with all others past who kept truth,
Open and recognised,
And to their own place came.
So do not call me by your brother’s name
Or I shall go unrecognised at the end.
No, I must be myself
And not in any other’s name
Live out my life in truth
In my own lands
Or in your lands where you have planted me
As a dark seed,
In ignorance by your shallow and unthinking past in lightness sown,
Lightness and greed.
But wherever and no matter how I stand,
Still fighting for bare life and justice,
Or grown myself frenzied and fat with power,
I must be black.
For that is truth.
And only truth can banish that pale ghost,
That white face that one day will haunt
My own new-rich cocktail hour.
For death to me is white
And to you black
But fear – oh fear for both of us is grey!
Undefined but everywhere,
Multiracial, colourblind decay.
So let us both fight fear in our different way
But as ourselves,
Though with the same weapon, truth,
That is all we have.
So do not call me by your brother’s name,
Pat on the head your coloured cousin
And dress me up in your best Sunday clothes.
For underneath the drip-dry nylon shirt
My heart beats angrily and sad
For living lies and lost beginnings,
For other clothes and other ways
That were my own.
Not pretty whitened lies
That damn me
The true, the old, the pure, the proud,
Of my soul.
ODE TO THE DEAD
I saw three faces of the dead,
An old man, a woman and a child.
Each lay so neatly in the straightened bed
Each face withdrawing, waxen white and chilled.
I saw the kinship of the newly dead,
Youth, age and the hard-pressed middle torrent of the blood.
That one who died in red life's pounding rage
Lies still as those two others
Who at the beginning and the ending slipped the stage.
The same whiteness, the same thinness, now the breath
Has left the toy balloon deflated, flat.
Drained of rumbustious air they lie aloof
Spread thinly in a new dimension, passed through
Or passed under.
Passed into the centre.
But yet their shells, their papery cases, how can they
Change so, become identical, indistinguishable one from one?
How can three nothings lie and mock at life?
Why do they look alike now they have gone?
The same marble, the same pale face,
The features sharpened, pointed, concave, as if sucked in
By that last breath.
How can they have felt the same when each one died
To have the same faint furrow round the eyes
And through the drawn lids
The same alertness,
The same secret smile?
Answer me, you knowing dead! I am alone.
I am snipped off, separate, like a pot plant
In my little painted bowl,
Or like an animal in the glass of my pet-shop cage
Pressing my face against the cold indifferent smoothness of life's wall.
Answer me, dead! You who have found company
Company and kin, and at last identity,
Being caught up, yourselves lost and smoothed out,
Received, embrased and welcomed
Into the old tribe
The inner tribe
The tribe that contains all tribes,
The tribe that lives and goes about its business
Secretly and in community, letting its children
Wander, powerful and protected,
Safe in the membership of the inner ring
Over the earth's face,
Under the earth's mountains,
Into the sky's embrace.
O come out from the corners of the world, you dead!
Come pattering patiently on your muffled feet,
Come creeping quietly from old hearts that bled,
Muster your whispering columns in the street.
Rage down from the mountain tops, you storming dead!
Swell up and burst the bond-chains of the sea!
Spill out beneath the graves,
Under the turf
Flood like a river, drawing bones and skulls
Along the underwater regatta
Of your styx.
Flow upwards on your sea,
Flow out into the upper world again.
Come rushing, bones a'bobbing, down the church aisle,
Come little boats of papier-mache, people-mache,
Come, little light remnants, come to me.
Let me wade into the dark water,
Let me feel the cold barges
Heaving gently against my side.
Let me know for an instant that dark-veiled tranquility
Before your summons to the midnight tide.
Then sail away
While I stay, beached and dried.
With the dead shells stuck to my tar-spocked stones,
With only a memory of your voices calling,
Back through the black tunnel,
Back from the long embrace
Of the encircling arm
That tossed the bones.
O yes, you are safe, you carefree dead!
You are listed neatly, shelved and pigeon-holed.
The dark maroons are calling,
Home to bed.
To shaded portholes and a rocking hold.
What lies for me in life then, till I join the dead?
Why is the brief breathing-time fragmented?
Does the breath
That pumps our tyres,
That pats our volleyed words
Across the net
Of non-communication with our brothers
In itself ring us around with walls of air?
Is the separation after all only a movement of the lungs?
In, out, in, out, in, out, in
And one day, in, out, out
And out forever.
Then- I am in their arms!
The arms that smooth, that stretch,
That change the features, that pare down the lumps
Of woman, man and child
Into one mould.
That make the stranger at the least a member
Of the tribe
Of the old tribe,
Of the tribe of man as he was before the Fall,
Before the separation and before the death
That leaves us screaming,
That we now call birth.
Who are the suffering, newly dead?
The newborn, matted with blood and dirt,
Slapped into sobbing?
Or the still silent ones who smile
The same smile, yes always the same
As all sobs are the same,
As all tears are salt,
So is their smile passed on
With a firm thumb print
On to so many clay-soft lips.
But the same print
From the same hand.
So old man, woman, child, alike you stand
Beside your beds
And as you, looking down
See how the sculptor remodels and re-arranges your untidy clay,
So you relax and effortlessly assume
Perfection's shape. One regularity,
One sweet proportion-scale,
One set-true pattern,
Self-effacing yet self-fulfilling,
True to the central pull.
One. One accepted
One only perfect
One - one.
O yes it must be one,
No variant, no flaw,
And yet not static, not decayed
Not dull, not wooden, not depleted, and not dead;
But, all the same.
Is that your secret then, my knowing dead?
Is that the smile behind the smile
The wonder behind the wonder that I feel
Beside your bed?
Is there a home, a haven
A rounded meaning
After the hard misshapen rocks that cut me without sense?
A purpose, whereas now I am adrift and reeling
Making no way,
Hacking to no avail through my black thorns
That choke and scratch me,
Is there after all a path
To lead me to my brothers, to my home?
And will I walk that path as the dead walked it
And is it inevitable, sure, whether I choose my way or no?
Always leading, breath by breath, to this strange lovely oneness?
It is so.
You tell me so, yes you, you pluming, prancing dead!
Floating away, riding like Pegasus across the housetops
Or plummetting like some great sea-eagle
Down, down into the dark waters,
Independent of air, of matter,
Moving through the thick clay of earth
Like light through clouds.
Always you answer,
Yes, we are the same!
We have passed over and under and through
Into the centre.
We are as one.
We are the past and the present
We are the future
We are all that the world has ever been
Or will be.
We are you.
O call me quickly, you all-powerful dead!
Fetch me up blinking from my mole's deep lair.
Call me to your bedsides, to see you sinking, sinking
Into the glory,
Into the brotherhood.
O let me share
Your looks one to another, you leaden-lidded dead!
Let me come quickly, for I feel
About my head your whispering, loving breath
Speaking my password,
Weaving my dress of dreams,
Folding it ready till I slip it on
And slide into sweet life;
When I fall back at last into your arms.
Wait for me, my life's last comfort, you embracing dead!
As I pick out my way,
Wait for me, wait till I come, O wait.
Then as the hour strikes, if I falter or struggle,
Falter or weep, falter or weep or struggle,
Draw me on quickly with your quiet hands
Back to the bedsides where I first saw your faces
To where I stood and felt your unity, O dead,
O three-faced dead,
O numberless, fathomless, indivisible, indestructible dead,
O gathering, garnering, gladdening dead!
Spreading your welcome under my aching feet,
Come for me then.
I have seen through your eyes only, life;
Felt through your coldness only, the earth's coal,
The core of fire, the heart, the middle chord,
That sings for one, for all.
The music that dances lightly under the dull load of grief,
One patterning, one fellowship,
Each day is ageing, wearing out
Uncomprehending, suffering life,
Fragmented, wasted and spoiled.
But others, underneath the pain, await
Weaving their silken hammock for the tired traveller,
Spider-sof, yet everlasting thread,
Ready to rock the body from its toil.
Ever-present, ever watchful, ever one,
The secret-spinning, all-embracing dead.
The Bernadette referred to in the following poem is Bernadette Devlin who was a major Irish Republican campaigner
in the 1970s. 'Bogweed' is probably a pun on the 'Bogside' area of Belfast a staunchly Republican area of the city. Bernadette Devlin
played a significant role as a local leader in the 'Battle of the Bogside'. Che Guevara, of course, needs no introduction.
Ché lives! Or so they say.
So can you hear me, Ché?
Yes you can hear upon your mountain top
So strange, after the jungle that you knew,
And look down at the snow-crust at your feet
Crisp and unstained by blood,
Or pocked by bullet-holes,
And feel in vague surprise
The certainty about you
Clear as the air you breathe.
Yes, there's the clue
That you're alive -
Alive. O Ché, how wrong
You were, and every verse
Of Revolution's song
That dipped its notes
In scarlet wounded
Guerilla soldiers' coats.
That song of man you sung
Should have been stifled
When that last breath was wrung
Out of your straininig lung.
O what a laugh
In spite of Mao Tse Tung
And anarcho-and-anti-all the other-isms flung
In wee red books of thoughts
Accross the dung
Of human anthills,
You, Ché, live on, breathe on,. are whole, are young:
Yes, breathe. O yes, an easy clue
Isn't it, Ché? Yes even you
Unwillingly immortal, must believe
That with dead bourgeois, peasants and conservatives
You live again, and breathe and breathe and breathe.
They don't know the damned funny secret, do they, Ché?
The ones who without thinking all their mortal life
Breathed in and out so bloody easily
And filled their chests with plenty,
While our shout
Our wheezy prayer
Was just for air.
Do you remember, Ché?
Or is it all too far,
Too clogged with dust
Too muffled and too low
For you to catch in memory the breath
That comes so sweetly on the mountain snow?
If you remember, Ché,
Is it worthwhile
To have your world upset and each belief proved wrong?
To be brought willy-nilly up against survival
After earth's death? When earth's short life
Was all your creed?
To be made such a fool!
To live and grind your teeth in rage
At being proved to be the spirit's tool
When you were only flesh.
Or so you thought.
Is it worthwhile to have to live past death,
Past fighting, past revolt,
To have the chance to breathe (as they would say) "again"?
They say "again" but you, for the first time.
Poor Ché; I know, or I will know one day
When I stand shivering too upon that mountain snow
Not so surprised as you
But more afraid,
For after all, yes, you were brave;
Still I can sense the future joy that I shall know
Alone and frightened in that endless snow.
That joy that comes when the last life-breaths go,
That came so hard to us, so niggardly.
The joy of breathing... .
Yes it took death to let you breathe, didn't it, Ché?
Yes, when they shout "Ché lives!" they little know
That the one thing their hero couldn't do,
That breathing bit, has brought his critics low.
What do they know,
The hairy hero-worshipping, afro freak-out hairdo
Mouthing their parrot cries,
"Ché lives!" - remember?
The clapped-out actresses with more wind than wit;
And don't forget
That fragrant Irish bogweed
How would they stand a half-hour of your life
As you were forced to live it?
Clutching at tables, chair-backs
As painful stepping stone
To pull you round a room
Empty of air
That all asthmatics know?
How would they recognise that sweet dream country
Where the good asthmatics go?
Where there is air - air - air,
Yes, air for all,
Unrationed, easy, free
Plentiful as the food
You fought to give your country,
Bracing a gun across your bursting chest,
You bloody fool.
In your asthmatic night
Towards you fever-haunted, misdirected day.
For the wrong reasons
And for the wrong cause.
Without pity, hope
And without breath
Te saludo, Ché!
This poem was published in the December 1983 edition of the Spectator Magazine and
subsequently by the Humanity magazine in the June/July 1975 issue.
From to-day the silence flows
Gently enveloping, since the last door closed
Upon the world.
Silence, swirling and eddying round the body on its knees,
A nerve-ending of the infinite.
While the soul
Hesitates upon the start
Of such a journey;
Facing the coming agony
Of Proximity to God.
Restless it moves, still struggles
Yet always, from this moment, under the light soul's fluttering
Deep in the centre, at the heart's core,
Stay with me by the fire
And hold my hand.
Time crosses time
And years converge
The meeting parallel
Carries my youth along the lines.
Look down those years to the far spot
Of sunlit joy.
Call Hannibal from the Alps,
The heavy elephantine train,
The massive plodding, ringing and vibrating like a knell.
Shout into the German forests,
Into the dark black terror-ridden woods
Where the horns blow.
Hear the hooves pounding
Of the horsemen from the eastern plains.
Then turn and shiver and draw closer
To the flames.
Linda Lovelace was the single most important figure in launching the hardcore sex film and video industry. She was by her own account
as much a victim as a star suffering at the hands of her abusive husband/pimp. She was paid peanuts for the iconic film 'Deep Throat'
and what little she was paid was taken by her husband. She later became a critic of the porn industry.
THE BALLAD OF LINDA LOVELACE (Written on 11/02/1976).
Look into Linda's larynx, lads,
Gawp, gobble, gulp and gloat;
Sink into squashy wastes of shame
Deep down in Linda's throat.
Gaze into Linda's gullet, girls,
Peep down, then softly float
On foeted mucu-laden clouds
Deep down in Linda's throat.
For what was youth and what was love,
That bliss, sweet yet remote
Seen in a dream (of heaven, perhaps)
But only Linda's throat?
Stamp out your dreams, stop up your ears
That heard spring's brilliant note,
For spring and love and youth are dead,
Interred in Linda's throat.
Youth's killers wriggle in their glee
Like weasels round King Stoat,
And ageing trendies push youth's corpse
Deep into Linda's throat.
For middle-age likes money, lads
So porno gets their vote,
And lots of lovely lolly lies
Stashed down in Linda's throat.
How fat and sleek these avant gardes!
In middle-age they bloat
Their thick white bellies on youth's blood
Thrown up from Linda's throat.
See them in Court, how piously
They mouth, as if by rote,
Their liberal lessons lecherously,
Leading to Linda's throat.
Remember Lady Chatterley?
The Bishop wet his coat
In holy joy: "A Sacrament!"
He cried - from Linda's throat.
Wolfe Enden, Bernie, "Woy", St. John -
All "Chatters" men of note,
Panting permissively, highbrow fools
Led us to Linda's throat.
The ugliest dames are randiest, lads,
No matter how "devote",
For Marg. Hanita (what a dial!)
Swam down sweet Linda's throat,
Poor Marg. thought "Fanny Hill" such fun,
"So witty" - yet her boat,
"S.S. Erotic", sprang a leak
And sank down Linda's throat.
But cute John Mawtimer, Q. C,
(Poor ageing billy-goat),
Trendy, ten years ago;) he won
His war of Linda's Throat.
What's left of England's pride, her fame?
Each clerical turncoat,
Jury-rigged Court, soft Judge, sends all
Slithering down Linda's throat.
Our blind "permissives" cannot see
That lust and crime connote.
So murdered children, tortured girls,
Fall thick down Linda's throat.
The Chat Pack of the B.B.C.,
That Lefties' sour compote
Of erstwhile unemployables,
Giggle down Linda's throat.
The stale pot-pourri of Gay Lib.,
The wrinkled queens who dote
On "freedom" and "compassion", see
They mince down Linda's throat!
The sad, sex-crazed psychologists
Who sales of filth promote;
Freud's ghost awaits you, couch prepared,
Deep down in Linda's throat.
Purity's corpse lies raped and torn
As lust's blood-filled coyote
Howls out his savage ecstasy
from deep down Linda's throat.
Debauched, despairing, English hearts
Like flies in creosote
Stick, black and helpless, waiting death
In Linda's ravenous throat.
Corruption's clowns dance on our grave
As England seems to float
On corpse-filled waters, greasily
Surging from Linda's throat.
See there floats Honour, Innocence,
There, Love...God! Send a moat
To channel off this poisoned tide
That wells from Linda's throat!
For when we die what shall we learn
As to Hell's mouth we tote
Our load of stench? Why, Death's jaws gape
Straight into Linda's throat!
Yet high in England's sky, a lark
Trills out Heaven's antidote;
When, pouring, choking, God's sweet earth
Stops up dead Linda's throat.
The poem below was published by the Spectator magazine on April 28th 1973. David Steel was a very young Liberal MP when
he shot to fame (or infamy if you prefer) as the driving force behind the liberalisation of the UK's abortion laws in the late 1960s. He is
now a Lord and a kind of grandfather figure in British politics.
THE BALLAD OF DAVID STEEL
O England is a liberal isle,
Their queen, Elizabeth;
The second of that name to rule
Over a land of death.
Under the first Elizabeth
Was scaffold and the rack
But with the second walk with me
To Wimpole street and back.
Come see the women walk that street
With swollen bellies fat
Then later on, those pavements pass
With bodies drained and flat.
Young life walks into Wimpole Street
And walks not out again
But on the stones of Wimpole Street
The only tears are rain.
The English are a kindly race
And tolerant in thought
And lazily allowed themselves
To think as liberals ought,
For liberals are diligent
And Englishmen are slow,
So now across this pleasant land
The red-hot ovens glow.
For blood runs free in England now,
Free as our liberal thought
And England’s spirit, once so dear,
The liberals have bought.
Not just in Wimpole Street, oh no,
But over all the land
On rich doll’s couch and free ward bed
Death smears his bloodstained hand.
For they have taught us liberal laws
And now we know that sex is king,
And that his tithe is death.
There was a bad King John, long since,
The king no books extol.
Yet all he lost was lands and wealth
But we have lost our soul.
We listened to the liberals
After our war was won.
That war to stop the ovens when
Each mother risked her son.
We listened to the liberals
And mocked the rows of graves
Till England in her glory fell
Into destruction’s waves.
For red-hot ovens burn again
Though Belsen’s fall to rust
And mounds of infant bodies feed
The fires of liberal lust.
Yes, red-hot ovens glow again
And Himmler laughs in hell
To see the liberal furnaces
And know he taught them well.
How apt his pupils, they outstrip
His genius for doom;
For Jew or Aryan, black or white,
The liberal fires find room.
Enough to be a babe, to live,
Enough to sound your knell,
For if you lived you might impede
The lust we serve so well.
So welcome to the ovens, child,
And pray before you burn
For England and the English soul
That it may yet return.
With Belsen bones incinerate,
With Buchenwald lie still;
The arms of Auschwitz open wide,
Old tears of Israel spill.
Yet Jew or Gentile, poor or rich,
Their mothers cry no more.
For sex is god and infant tithes
Smoke on his oven’s floor.
For Englishmen are rutting stags
And English dolls their does
And blood-encrusted from the womb
Leers out the English rose.
O hard to be a boilerman
And pile the coke so high
And throw the bag-wrapped foetus in
And maybe hear it cry.
O sweet to be a surgeon skilled
And rake in fees from both
Rich dollies and the N.H.S.
And damn that older Oath!
But not too sweet to wake at night
And see around your bed
Old tutors, colleagues, even God -
But worst of all, the dead.
O sweet to be a young M.P.
By liberals garlanded,
The trendy triumph in your ears
Screams louder than the dead,
But oh, but oh, the dead come back
To haunt a liberal’s night,
And childrens’ ashes, like a curse
On liberal heads alight.
O sweet to be a murderer
In England’s liberal isle,
To grumble as you watch T/V
Or hunger-strike awhile,
O sweet to be a murderer’s moll
And get your hair done free
And moan that prison spoils your hands
That helped a child to die
Yes Brady sulks and Hyndley takes
Communion on her knee
While on the Moors the keening winds
I wish I were the northern wind
That blows across the Moors.
I wish I were the childrens’ ghosts
That rattle at the doors,
For now those children unavenged
Are joined in endless night
By tiny thousands, murdered all
In England’s liberal blight.
O strange to be a Bishop bland
And preach humanity
For blacks in southern Africa
Yet let our children die!
But bitter to be English now
And have a mother’s heart,
To hear the childrens’ voices wail
From death’s piled funeral-cart.
What savage vixen of the wild
Feeling her belly grow
Would send her cubs on to the fire
And then a-mating go?
Yet swollen bellies walk our streets
And then are seen no more,
Another dress, another drug,
And out again to whore.
Better the vixen’s tearing claws
Than liberal doctors’ hands
That bind our infants’ bodies tight
In sacrificial brands.
For sex is England’s tribal god
And men must rut and wombs must swell
To pay his tithe of death,
For vice is ruler, virtue nought,
And better any battle red
Than brothel’s bugle-call.
Yes better than self-pitying band
(Whoever called them Gay?)
Because whatever else they do
At least they do not slay.
Yes better anything than this,
This stench of infants’ flesh!
These smoke-rings of a nation’s rut
Fouling its meadows fresh.
O sad to be an English Queen
Of blameless purity
Yet see her Seal of England set
To legal butchery
For England is a liberal isle
And history books will tell
In future years, how Englishmen
Gave up their land to hell.
Under Dark Ages, they will write,
God and His Angels slept;
But under that Elizabeth
God and His Angels wept.
The following ballad was published by the Time and Tide magazine in November 1973
and Freedom First (Oct-Dec 1973 Issue). It was used as a political tract with
the permission of Rachel Law by 'Action' a 1970s pressure group. Enoch Powell was an extraordinary post-war political figure, perhaps
more controversial than any other. He was a Tory with a fierce intellect (he was a classics don before entering the wartime army and later politics)
but had the 'common touch', perhaps caused by entering the army as a private and leaving as a brigadier! His stance against the
wave of immigration from the British Commonwealth countries in the 1960s endeared him to
many British workers. He was sacked by Edward Heath after his 'rivers of blood' speech. Shortly after this the dockers came out in
a sympathy strike in support of Enoch. He went on to become an Ulster Unionist MP. There was an iconic debate between him and David Frost which is
replayed from time to time. The verdict of history is that he was wrong as a prophet but perhaps, just perhaps, that was his intention. He certainly paid a high
his prophecies. By saying what he did he acted as a pressure
release valve for tensions that all acknowledge were there but which were not expressed much by the mainstream media. Perhaps his
speech was meant to be a self-denying
prophecy, the opposite of the self-fulfilling prophecy which his opponents were so fearful was his malign intention. That he cared deeply
about his country is not disputed so it is not impossible.
Only God and Enoch will know!
THE BALLAD OF ENOCH POWELL
A paradox is Enoch Powell
His tongue, in learning versed,
Yet echoes the rough people's voice
That growls, "Put England first".
In Hampstead he's racialist,
At Lambeth God's accurst,
But in the back streets he's the man
Who puts the English first.
When every trendy bleeding-heart
Has English rights reversed
The poor, who pay the reckoning, cry
For Powell, who puts them first.
In Westminster the dove-cotes tilt;
Their mouldy grain dispersed
Forms wild hawk's writing on the ground,
Spells out; "Put England first".
That hawk descends, and to the soft
Stale pigeon-loft of South-West-One
Cries out: "Put England first!"
Shout "Floreat Etona!", Thorpe,
Till Cyril's braces burst.
Powell's squalid, common, only plebs
And proles put England first.
A British soldier in the Falls
Stands, spat upon and cursed,
Two comrades, blown to bits last week,
Pass by him, cold and hearsed:
He thinks: "That bloke's a realist,
He'd get this mess reversed,
Quit sobbing for the Micks, but put
My mates and England first".
No rights; no ballot papers' choice
Have English pens traversed,
No voice, as other nations have,
Lest they put England first.
Says Geoffrey as he sips his "fine"
To quench his blameless thirst,
"Cherie, we're Europeans now;
Mon Dieu! - put England first?"
The Skipper's cocoa's getting cold.
He's faced the tempest's worst,
But now on mutiny he broods
If crews put England first.
For all the lunches, all the deals
And all the perks disbursed
Are pigeon-droppings in the wind
That roars: "Put England first!"
The Skipper's baton wavers now,
For though loyal crews rehearsed
"Deutschland ub. alles", now their choir
Sings "Rule, Britannia!" first.
But Skipper's agent knows the man
Who would be reimbursed
For victory, given by one speech
Saying, "Put England first."
Now let the Silent People speak
Chester to Chislehurst,
Cloth-cap, commuter, their last chance
Hear him: put England first.
ENGLAND IN TRENDYLAND (Written on 03/03/1976)
MALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING-GLASS
Trendies are kind, compassionate
Their consciences are clear
And down their cheeks like glycerine runs
A sticky socialist tear.
They weep to see us choose free speech,
Free press – but just you wait,
Their banners are unfurling now,
Their motto: “Legislate!”
Daft laws pour from their eager brains
Thick, rancid as the corn
Flows from a stale rat-nibbled sack
That trendies’ teeth have torn.
For they have fouled that English grain
Of Truth – through ages sworn,
And scattered all our heritage
And rights of Britons born.
So we must learn their Nonsense-Laws
On this, the other, that;
But first make sure that Englishmen
Have got their lessons pat.
Now learn Cloud-Cuckoo lessons all,
Hear Trendy-Laws and fear
That disobedience may provoke
The War of Jenkins’ Tear.
Know what is right and what is wrong,
Turn justice upside down.
Dig your own grave (you’ll need it soon)
And so escape their frown.
There are no sins but patriotism
(They call it racism now)
And decency and self-respect,
The rest? Well, it’s a wow!
My dear, we can do anything
And still feel quite at ease
For trendies’ tears will wash us all
As spotless as you please.
Yes, they’ve made laws to see we don’t
Miss anything that’s fun.
So name it – do it! That’s the way -
And watch the Lemmings run...
They’ve actually made laws to prove
That all that’s wrong is right.
So do your thing – but have a care,
Their teeth may sometimes bite!
For trendies’ tears flow just one way,
Towards the side of wrong,
And double standards are their rule
And cant their battle song.
For instance, your old grandmother
Got mugged the other day?
Well, keep your trap shut, don’t protest,
You’ll end in gaol that way!
So you’re a sado-masochist?
That’s perfectly O.K.
But slap an 18-year-old lout?
They’ll have you put away!
It’s quite all right to rape and wound,
It’s fine to fornicate.
But opt out of a Union?
You’ll end at Traitor’s Gate!
You can stand up and shoot your mouth
(As long as you’re not white)
But rudeness to an immigrant?
You’ll sleep in prison tonight!
You must feel love and sympathy
For every layabout,
But help a hard-taxed shopkeeper?
By God, you’ll be drummed out!
Weep for each Irish terrorist,
Each bloodstained murder’s pimp.
But sigh for a dead soldier?
Why, you’re a Colonel Blimp!
Students, illiterate and unwashed
May hold their childish feasts
Of blood and bile – but poor old Police,
They’re fascist brutes and beasts!
Murdered your baby, did you, luv?
Well now, go free, don’t yelp,
‘Cos if you do your others in
We’ll get you a Home Help.
See tides of filth invade our land?
You must not gasp nor blink.
But call old Smith’s wife “Mrs.”
And you’ll end up in the clink!
Put your “Gay” adverts in the press,
Solicit kinky chums.
But ask for a “Charlady?”
You’ll be hung up by your thumbs!
The Sex Discrimination Act
Will set us all to rights.
Trendies adores each hard-faced “M/s”
On her they’ve set their sights.
To keep us suckers happy when
They tell the Commissars
That England has at last been driven
Behind the nut-house bars.
Young men, you died in England’s wars
To save homes, children, land?
Wives, sweethearts? Fools! You died for this!
Abortion on Demand.
The country’s broke but what the hell?
Let millions go to waste
In pressing English hearts and minds
Into sour socialist paste.
Listen to Solzhenitsyn?
My dear, he’s so old hat.
There’s a new sex film on tonight -
Come on, we can’t miss that!
Clunk, click! Our seat belts are all fixed.
We’ve got no need to fear.
Sit back, relax. But in the East
The tanks grind into gear.
THE BROWN RAT
His shadow slides behind the garbage cans
Silent and sleek, refuse-tip fat and furred.
Darting, dividing, darkening
Sharp nosed and pointed,
Flattened and blurred,
His shadow follows in the wake of Man’s.
Here is your Doppelganger, loftily staring Man!
Look at your clearer, more familiar face.
Look at the eyes and see your little soul
Blink back at you
Though framed within their ruff of flea-infested filth
While yours is lace.
Twin brother, alter ego,
There he stands.
Useless to run away, recoil or hide;
Cover your panic paths to the earth’s end,
You will not lose the scampering horror at your side.
You gave him the earth,
Yes, Man, made him your partner
Gave him a share of the filth that you sowed
When you bulldozed the fields,
Tore the woods for their treasure,
Built up your tower-blocks,
He followed your road.
He’s urban like you, Man.
A real city gent.
Bred in back alleys
Under house shadows
In town murk
Where the dirt
And ever growing
Poor little city slicker.
Poor little fool, who left the green,
The innocent wild
To follow Man.
To be his shadow
And his child.
Jackie or Grace at the bullfight,
Snuggle back into your seat.
Wrap your Givenchy around you,
He scutters under your feet.
Yes dollies, here in the bullring,
Here where the blood flows for fun
Can you peep through those eyelashes?
See, where the red blood still splashes
Till it thickens and sticks like the gum
On your dinky eyelashes
That are false,
Can you see other eyes
Bright and beady
Loving the blood and the sun?
Happy, at home?
See your sisters,
Your little brown sisters,
O see how they run!
Predatory, scavenging, verminous Man!
Draining the life-blood of the earth
To make a bloated pudding for your greed.
Your great black pudding
Of the black bull’s blood
Sucked from the old bull,
Do you never hear the wailing in the forests?
The birds’ lament,
The creatures crying
In the old wild places that you ring around
With your smeared snail’s dirt bull-ring,
Then leave to die
Captive and surrounded;
The last green stretch of Eden
Under this sky?
Can you not hear that their poor death knell ringing
Echoes for you? Yes, you
In your close-carpeted
Piped music, Renoir-rampant
Phony marble hall?
The song of death it is that echoes here,
For you, for you, for you.
Song of the dying wilderness
Betrayed and overrun.
The proud and hard and honest wild.
Now going, with a muffled murmur
Like a child.
Then, when the last tree withers
And is chopped down before it falls
To make a T/V set or a bar counter
To serve the intervals of skin flick movies,
To make the paper for a reprint of “Portnoy’s,”
Or to make a coffin;
Then, then your brother calls.
He calls, he runs, he comes in hundreds,
Flocks to greet you,
Jump up and smother you,
Baring his yellow teeth in such a grin of welcome,
For now you are alone together
Master and slave
Father and son
Mother and daughter
Sister and brother
One rubbish heap
One death of spirit
One burrowing, snuffling, into the dirt
That once was sweet dark earth.
Yes, he has conquered, Man, under your banner
And now he faces you
Who’ll sell you rat-bane for a tanner?
TO A BLASPHEMER (Written on 09/09/1976)
Swill fed, pork fat, unprepossessing Dane,
Incipient syphilitic, northern Nut,
(Look for the "Danish" mark...), your bacon brain
Pot-smoked, lust-tenderised, a tasty cut
For trendy dinners. Oh, what fun to sting
Over the booze, birds, boys and beasts,
( No doubt you've tried them all?) that only thing
That might have saved you. Vomit up your feasts
And spew their rancid refuse on our King.
He will not heed, for He was stoned and scourged,
And while you have your fun, O Cheerful Dane,
He waits in glory, insult-proof and purged,
Immaculate: to bear your dark soul's pain.
Look in their holy books and see my name
Apart, in brackets. (that hurts most, I think,)
Yes, always Judas (not Iscariot) for my shame
Too foul even to touch. So I, distinct
And damned. Even red Cain bore just a mark, but I
A nothing. Betrayal - salt in the supper room,
False kiss, unwanted silver - and I die
Each day for Him; for He made out my doom.
His eyes were full of tears for me, but "Go,
Judas Iscariot, do your own duty." Words
Kiss-whispered in that garden. " It is so;
Somebody had to do it." Words like swords
Pierced me. Hanged on my tree, a fiery chariot
Passed. I saw Him, I Judas! (yes, Iscariot).
MARTHA (Written on 03/03/1976)
"Mary was the pretty one. She always was,
And clever too but I was plain and dull.
Just poor Martha, though I'm the younger one
In point of fact: but who, seeing the full,
The bright, the lifted face of Mary to the light
Wants to remember facts?
Oh, not Rabboni! How she sits
Coiled like a spring of love and understanding at his feet
While I prepare the meal...and then - no thanks!
"Better a dish of herbs..." - how like a man! Moses! If she
Had picked the herbs, mooning around the rocks, well we'd have been
Poisoned, the lot of us!
Oh well, the meal was good, and then
While I was clearing up I heard his call to say good-bye.
I was fed up, my hands were sore with all those dishes -
(If you can get a decent unguent in Galilee these days I would
Be glad to hear of it). Still, he called out. I wiped my hands and went
Into the hall. Mary was there. I have never seen
Such love and understanding - but there,
I hadn't finished in the kitchen; my bad leg hurt -
I said "Goodbye Lord" rather rudely, I'm afraid.
And then he said " I have a message from my Mother."
Mary said "For me?" The joy upon her face! Oh well
Let her sit idle all her days, for such a look..enough to see it...
So I took myself off, back to the kitchen but he followed me
There - into all the mess! Mary too. He said: " Don't run away, Martha. For I have
A letter from my Mother." Mary caught her breath, but I was busy.
And so tired. So, to my shame, I said: "Give it to Mary then - she's the holy one!
I've got the washing-up to do once you are gone!"
"Martha," he said and turned me round, taking my greasy hands, so sore and red,
"Here" he said, "A note. For you."
"Rabbi," I said, "I cannot read so very well, let Mary see."
"It's not for Mary but for you," says he. From Her - to me....
My sister stood so silent at the door. There is, after all, only one Mary....
I took the parchment, just a scrap, (It costs a lot these days) and when I looked
My eyes were opened and I could read quite well!
It said, in her own hand, (and as I touched the parchment my red hands looked white),
"I salute you, Martha." Just that. Her...salute me!
What does it mean? How should I know? He left soon after. Mary in a dream
As usual, and me - back to the kitchen....
I think there was a mistake, myself. My sister should have had it. But i've stuck
Up, upon a hook, over my sink.
And look ast it, and wonder what it meant.
And when the work seems worst
I look again, and then I am content."
AVE MARIA (Written 1972)
There is a thin and high
Between this hell
There is a hand
That stretches out,
Yet passive, never planned
Or positive, or manned
By being’s boat-crews.
But a hand
A thread, a straw,
A fine-drawn, faint and unheroic line
A pulling, infant’s cord
From mind to mind.
Weaving and spider-soft its touch
Too feathery, too light to feel
Cries out into the unrelenting air.
And then the line is taut
And safe, unmovable, draws upwards to the light;
Saves, rescues, lifts;
Pulls, with the strength of steel.
President Jimmy Carter once suggested that a bust of Dylan Thomas be erected in Poet's
Corner, this wish was duly carried out by the ever obedient Brits.
D.T.s IN THE ABBEY
I dreamt I crept into the Abbey Crypt
(Shades of that anal and alliterative cat...)
Or Jimmy Carter on a culture jag...?)
But I was all alone and it was night,
A not-so-good night to go “gently into”
And I was sad and stone walls were cold.
Then I heard laughing from a distant corner,
Higher up – off the main tourist trap;
(But still a “good address...,”
That marble cul-de-sac
Where they have put the poets.)
So static and respectable in death
Each marble bust worth more
Than all flogged watches, verses, lives or energies
That, just to live,
Had to be whipped and chained like galley-slaves
To pay the bloody bills.
But now in Poets’ Corner, South West One,
Secure, they can relax.
In the Big Time at last,
Death’s Time, which is Eternity,
With fellow poets they can laugh
And swop good stories of the philistines
Or, worse, the soppy adulatory fans...
My muddled dreams drew me at last
To stare into that Corner,
But each mask
Of pious marble had a poker-face
And all was silence.
Though, just for a moment, till they spotted me
I swear the marble smiled
On every face – (well, one or two,
Wordsworth etc., looked pretty sour
And Milton, thanks to goodness, couldn’t see...)
There at the base of such a white, meek new boy’s plaque
I seemed to see
A pile of fag ends
Bottles of brown ale,
And on a sculptured face
A wicked grin...
He’ll have to learn
To clear up quicker
Or there’ll be trouble in Eternity.
Unless, as I suppose,
He’ll get some half-baked cherub
Poet-struck, (no fees in prayers or psalms)
To do it...free.
STARS (Written 1972)
Pound down, rain down over my head with your silvery weight of glory, stars.
Gather, pressed close, compact
Tight packed, cut-tinfoil shaking
Into flower patterns, shifting and tilted in a lens
Then blown, dispersed and widened
Separating, and the brightness blinding
Intensified and heightened, to each far
Far off, most distant, light-specked point
At the furthest, blackest, most withdrawn edge of night.
Even when I shut my eyes, I see you, stars.
Even when there are clouds
Or there is fog, I am surrounded
I am haunted, pursued by your dazzling presence, stars.
Even now, even sometimes when it is day
I know your pale pointed faces are behind my head
And that if I turned quickly I should fall
Blinded and breathless to the ground
Possessed and stricken by the winter gleam,
The frozen brilliance, the silent white firework show
Of ever-present eyes. Of eyes, the eyes
That hypnotise, that crystallise
My thoughts and draw them up
Out of my head.
Up, up, turning them cold and winking as all the others.
Pulling and beckoning,
Spreading, splitting and multiplying,
Filling the universe, blocking and crowding space
With pin-points, needle-points, blinking, winking,
Drawing, annihilating, crushing
Eternal, ever-shining stars.
The Mediums little sitting room was crowded. It was poor and shabby, dusty and
uncared-for. The group of people who had just assembled there looked out of place
and, in their different ways, ill at ease and uncertain what to expect. They were
ranged around the wall, on hard chairs. For some reason the only sofa in the room
was empty except for the Mediums Cat. As the guests had filed into the dingy
little room each had made for the sofa, taken one look and gone instead to a chair
by the wall. It was indeed a filthy sofa - dusty and stained and extremely uninviting.
The only other large piece of furniture in that room was the piano: a fairly
respectable baby grand. Behind this instrument were ranged the Television Techni-
cian and his assistant; two laconic men, occupied with tapes and cameras. Near them
sat, wearing a look of utter disgust, the Television Personality, who was to introduce
the evening's proceedings. His disbelief that anyone could live in this squalor
showed only too clearly on his face. He looked at his watch, and hoped the old girl
would keep to schedule; he had a date later at Annabel's. God, what an assignment!
he thought, to record some dead old bore of a composer - who was it now? Better get
it right, (he glanced at his notes) oh yes, Liszt - who's supposed to take over
this old fraud and play through her from the Other Side, as they call it! Lot of
old cranks. Anyway, he preferred Pop.
Still, he admitted to himself, looking across the room to the occupants of the
other two miserable chairs, it was an honour to appear with those two - the Inter-
national Virtuoso and the Music Critic. Some of his friends on the Music Programme
had been quite shirty when he'd landed this job - said they'd give their eyes to
meet them. Oh well, he supposed they were celebrities but, my God, not his cup of tea.
What a struggle it had been to get them here! He remembered the Music Critic, icily
polite, and the Virtuoso, who had roared with laughter. But something, some rumour
going round musical circles, had persuaded them to take part. The rumour had grown
and gathered force over the last few months - that there really was something in the
old girl's claim. Dead composers coming back, for heaven's sake - and to this hell-
hole of all places! The Television Personality hid a smile quickly: serious, that
was the note he must strike tonight. Oh well, hurry up, he thought.
The Virtuoso and the Critic sat in silence; the Virtuoso looking down at his hands,
perhaps reflecting with satisfaction that they were the most famous hands in Europe.
His vanity was as colossal as his fame. Every composer had written, it seemed, in
order that one day he would play their works, because only he had perfect technique.
It was indeed true: his technique was perfect. All composers fed this overwhelming
technique - only one, the greatest of them all, still outstripped him; not so much
in execution as in understanding. The Virtuoso was a supreme exponent but his fingers
knew more than hi brain. Still, to see him sitting there, bored certainly but
quiescent, seemed to the Television Personality fantastic. All to hear and old mad-
woman plod through a few bars of sugary pseudo-Liszt!
The Critic sat hunched up as if he were very cold. He was a little, thin, dried-up
skin of a man. He seldom spoke and this was felt to be a blessing, since his words
were usually blistering and cruel. Now as he crouched on his wooden chair, his
expression was inscrutable. Nothing about him stirred. He might have been a wax
dummy except the eyes, bright brown and lizard-like, that moved malevolently
around the room. He was music. He was critisicm; but he was feared and, mostly,
hated. No human emotion or charity affected his writing. He would smash a career as
easily as cracking a nut. He loved no-one and nothing (and this was certainly
reciprocal) except one composer only, the best, the greatest of them all. In his
writings on this composer and in particular on his piano works, even his enemies and
his victims (and they were legion) admitted that he was supreme, and yet humble. One
composer only could draw his snake-fang venom. He had never married. He had no
mistress, (the Virtuoso had three) and the facile explanation would have been wrong
too. He was equally ininterested in his own sex. He had no friends; his few
musical equals irritated him and the rest of mankind bored him. He looked across
the room now at the Personality as if he could not quite believe his company. The
Personality (who had lunched at the Palace that week) felt that lizard-look and
shifted uneasily in his chair. He fingered his Blades tie as if it were an amulet.
He was not used to contempt.
Suddenly they all set up: the Medium had entered the little room, which by now
was stuffy with the smell of electric lamps and wiring, teh Technician's cigarettes,
and above all Cat. The Medium's Cat did indeed exhude a formidable smell. Lounging
at his ease on the deplorable sofa, now scratching, now stretching, he seemed to
mesmerise the company. The Technicians, the Personality, the Virtuoso and the Critic
all looked involuntarily towards his common tabby bulk as his mistress entered,
almost as if they expected some sort of signal on his part. They were disappointed.
The Cat glanced briefly up at the stocky form of the elderly Medium, then resumed his
cleaning and scratching operations. For an instant his mistress glanced quickly,
almost furtively, at the opposite end of the sofa from where he lay, and also for an
instant his eyes followed hers, bright and alert. Then she turned quickly away from
the sofa towards the pianoforte and the Cat relaxed again.
It was the turn of the Personality to make his introduction. A quick nod to the
Technician and his assistant had signalled the beginning of the programme but even
as he began his carefully rehearsed spontaneous introduction, his voice quavered.
He had not met the Medium before tonight, so he was working blind. Now he was
suddenly conscious of an embarrassment so acute as to make even his too-ready tongue
falter. Someone should have told him! Blast his Director, who had insistedon no
previous interview! ("She won't have it, old boy.") and blast himself even more for
being had for a sucker! Wild thoughts rushed through his head - resign - go to the
Other Channel! Never to speak to anyone in Classical Music again...! God, what a
monkey they'd made of him! He looked again in horror at the Medium as she absently
patted the atrocious Cat and then waddled over to the piano. He had expected her to
be tiresome but at least not laughable - perhaps even with some sort of magnetism
that would come over on the Box - but this! A stubby, unprepossessing elderly woman,
who smelt very much the same as that terrible sofa and that malignant Cat! The
Personality had been born into one of the Royal Families of the media and success
had come to him early. He was too young and his life had been too soft, for him to notice
the harsh signs of poverty in the Medium's set face; in the knotted arthritic hands,
the tatty dress and the pathetic rows of Woolworth beads adorning it. Most of his
girl friends shopped at Bibba and moaned about not being able to afford Givenchy. He
had never seen an old woman, painfully dressed in her best, still smelling of cat and
cabbage but hoping the beads would hide the kitchen stains on her treasured, terrible
The Medium moved over to the piano and the Virtuoso looked her over, strangely,
although he now moved from Hilton to Hilton, with no revulsion. He saw a back-slum
in Naples, saw his mother, his ten brothers and sisters, saw rows of washing and felt
again the pangs of hunger. To jis own astonishment he rose and shook hands with the
Medium. She acknowledged his greeting calmly, then took her seat at the piano. The
Virtuoso's small gesture of friendship broke the ice. Now the Personality began his
spiel: "Madame would shortly be taken over by Franz Liszt and would play his latest
work, composed beyond the grave...Madame was in spiritual touch with all the great
composers...the Personality was feeling slightly sick but he continued in this vein
gamely. He was after all a professional. The Technician stubbed out his cigarette.
He grinned at his assistant and touched his forehead. The Virtuoso and the Critic
sat back: the Virtuoso strangely troubled and disturbed by this glimpse into a
poverty he only wanted to forget but yet had betrayed himself into remembering. The
Critic was, as ever, inscutable, but the Personality, having caught his eye for a
moment, felt cold at the cruel sarcasm shortly to annhilate himself and everyone else
concerned in this farce in the all-powerful Sunday music review. However, he signalled
to the Technician. Spotlight shifted to the Medium. She said, with an effort at
calm but in painfully shaky voice: "My dear Master and friend, the Abbe Liszt, will
now join us from the Other Side to play his latest work." The Technician winked at
his assistant. The smell of dirt and Cat in the little room seemed to increase. The
heat from the television lamps was stiffling as the Medium sat, stolid and somehow
defiant, at the piano. The suddenly the Personality and the two Technicians became
alert as if some sixth professional sense told them to sit up. The little room was
very quiet now.
The Medium flexed her fingers and pushed back the shabby cuffs of her dress. She
settled herself on the piano stool and closed her eyes, but still she did not play.
It was as if a strange paralysis gripped her. Then the Critic spoke, in a voice that
would have silenced the Crush Bar at Covent Garden; yet it was an old man's voice,
faint and thin. He said: "Will you begin, Madame, or ask - er - whoever is to play
for us tonight, if he would kindly?" Soft words, but the acid in them bit
like a caustic into the Medium's heart. She thought in terror of the rent unpaid,
the bills, her arthritis..how many more times could she even stumble through a simple...
piece? She thought of the lifetime of drudgery as a piano teacher; drudgery
tempered by a dour content in doing the work she loved. She thought of her strange
gift that had come to her so late in life, that hardly anyone believed in. She
thought of this one incredible chance to prove it. An old pupil, successful, had
been grateful and loyal ( for she had been a good teacher) and had organised this
opportunity - her own television programme! Her big moment; but she did not feel
elated. She felt old, old and tired and really, as usual, rather hungry. She opened
her eyes briefly and looked across at the sofa empty in its dirt except for her
beloved Cat. Poor Puss, he would have to go if this didn't come off. They would
both have to go. The Cat stared back at her then shut its eyes and appeared to
The Medium made a supreme effort. Her tired voice said: "Please start the
recording. Franz Liszt is coming through..." Her fingers hovered over the keys - she
took a deep breath and straightened her back - then raised her hands to strike the
first chord. She did strike the keys but it was a hideous discord as her hands fell
nervelessly onto the keyboard. The audience froze in horror: this was going to be
even more painful than they had feared. Poor soul, she couldn't play a note! The
Virtuoso half rose from his seat, but a touch on his arm from the Critic stopped him.
The Critic was looking at the Medium. The Medium was looking at the sofa in rage
and despair. She grated out a torrent of words, absurdly addressed to the sleeping
Cat: her eyes were bright with tears, her hands were shaking as she stretched them
out towards the sofa. " You beast!" she cried, "You selfish beast! Why did you have
to come tonight? You knew how much it mattered to me - how little money I have left!
This was my last chance! Why did you have to come and spoil it? Where's Liszt?
Why isn't he here? Why you - tonight of all nights?" To the horror of her
audience she began to sob. Then she got out an unspeakable handkerchief and blew
her nose defiantly. Again she addressed the sofa: "You've ruined me, you brute!" she
cried, " It's all very well to say play the new Rondo! I don't know it, and you know
I don't! In any case, whatever you say, I tell you it's unplayable!" There was a
pause. The audience stared at the Medium. The Medium stared with loathing at the
sofa. "Shouting and swearing at me!" she gasped, "the manners of a pig! Coming here
tonight just to spite me - when you knew I couldn't play your blasted Rondo! I've
sweated and practised but it's beyond me - I told Liszt - he understood! Not like
you - you insulting fiend!" She sobbed again, then, as if in a final agony of despair,
shouted over to the sofa: " All right - play it yourself, then!" and slumped down over
The little sitting-room was filled with sound. Sound that reverbrated and
paralysed the audience. It seemed that sound itself, glorious and untrammelled, had
taken over bothe the room and its occupants. No-one moved to help the stricken Medium;
if she had fainted or not, if she were playing or not, no-one could tell and certainly
no-one moved. Only the Technician, serious now, whispered a rapid order to hi assis-
tant. Cameras turned and tapes recorded but they were insignificant, a child's
playthings. Nothing was real except the sound coming from the piano. For an eternity
or a few minutes - the shabby sitting-room shook to the music of the spheres.
Then is stopped: on a last miraculous trill, followed by a chord of such subtlety
and profundity thet is seemed to every listener that the last breath of life itself
had been wrung from him. Then silence.
The Medium spoke first, in a flat and hopeless voice. "Irealise it all went wrong.
I'm sorry. It wasn't Liszt and I didn't know the piece. Of course, it's all off now-
I realise that. " She tried to smile but glanced at the Cat on the sofa and a sob broke
from her. The Cat stared back, untroubled although the music had woken him from his
sleep. He was impervious to music and to grief. Then she looked at the Personality
and the Virtuoso; it was a look of despair, defeat and resignation. Then she turned
to the Critic and now her eyes brightened with some spark of indignation. This force
seemed to reach the Critic, so that he roused himself from what appeared to be some
deep abstraction and looked directly at the Medium. His face as usual gave nothing
away, only now it looked more than ever like a death-mask and when he spoke his voice
shook. "I take it, Madame, the performance is over?". The Medium nodded, fighting
back the tears. Then she drew herself up on the piano stool, straightened her dress
and fingered the appalling rows of beads as if in some half-conscious imitation of
a press photograph of some famous diva. She said, in a brittle voice: " I am sorry
about tonight. He spoilt it all. He knew I couldn's play the Rondo." She paused, then
looked again at the Critic. " It's all your fault," she said, "he found out that you
were coming. He wanted you to hear it - the new Rondo, I mean."
All eyes in the little room were centred now on the Music Critic. He had gone
very white. For the first time in his life he felt the loneliness of the performer -
of the star at the centre of the stage. He felt at last a pang of fear and of remorse
for the cereers he had so often demolished in a sentance. He had never been in the
firing line before and he did not like it. But still they all looked at him, and
still they waited for some sort of responce from him. Silently he raised his head
and looked at the Medium. Then at last he spoke. "For me?" he said, "He played for
me?" She nodded. There was a pause. "I am a critic," he said, and there was a
faint echo of the old arrogance in the quavering voice, "I have been a critic for
nearly fifty years. But on what we have just heard I cannot offer an opinion..."
Then he seemed to remove himself from them all, to have grown infinitely remote
from earth or grief. Yet as they looked at him two tears trickled down his face.
The Television Personality had had more than enough. He got up, looked around and
said, "Well, that's it, Then?" He motioned to the Technician and his assistant to
start clearing their equipment away and gave a quick glance at his watch. He must
bring this dreadful session to an end. The Medium seemed to have grown thinner and
greyer. "Oh dear," she said, "Please, please give me another chance. I've got Gounod
and Saint Saens coming next week - perfect gentlemen - not like him..." She glared
at the sofa. Then the tears came back and through her handkerchief she muttered,
" Oh never mind." Then she said imploringly to the Critic and the Virtuoso, "Won't
you both come? Next week, I mean? For Gounod and Saint Saens?"
The Virtuoso did not seem to have heard. He was lost in some pianist's reverie,
whispering to himself and moving his fingers. Those million-dollar hands stretched
emptily, trying to conjure notes out of the air. The Critic answered her. " NO,
Madame, " he said, "I shall not come to hear Gounod and Saint Saens next week."
The Medium's face was stiff. She looked at her Cat on the sofa. One swollen hand
twisted the Woolworth beads. The Critic spoke again. His voice was dry and acid.
The tears had disappeared; he was himself again. "No, " he said, "I shall not be here
next week or ever again. I shall never attend another concert or recital again. I
shall never write another critique again." He looked at the Television Personality
now. "But," he continued, "if I have any influence, this lady shall have her contract."
The Personality nodded speechlessly then turned to the Virtuoso. He came out of his
trance and he, too, nodded. "Of course. She has her contract..." Then he
turned to the Medium and in the voice that had charmed half Europe he wheedled:
"Madame...cara...I must hear it again - the Rondo - just once more?" The Medium
shook her head. "It's unplayable," She muttered, "I couldn't play it." "But I could
play it! I could!" The Virtuoso was giving them a taste of his famous temperament
now, " I must hear it again! I demand it! Then I could play it!" The Critic looked
at him coldly. "Only the composer could play it," he said, "you'll have to wait.
I am an old man and I shall hear it again before you," he smiled unpleasantly, "if
what my doctor says is true."
The Television Personality said, in the voice of one goaded beyond endurance,
"Do you mean to tell me, that - that this is genuine? That he would come back -
here - to play?" His glance swept round the little room, which seemed to shrink
under the revulsion in his face and to become even more cramped and evil-smelling.
"I don't see why not," the Critic remarked. "It was what he was used to, after all.
He didn't live in Chelsea Square." He grinned malevolently at the Personality.
The Virtuoso stretched out his hands. "Maestro..." he began. Then he let his arms
fall to his sides and shrugged his shoulders. He sighed. "E finito," he said, "come,
my friends." He went over to the Medium, still sitting uncomprehendingly at the
piano. He bowed. "Madame, I thank you," he said. I shall tell the world of you.
You will have money - oh, yes, plenty of money, and perhaps one day you will ask
him to remember me?" Then he went out.
The Music Critic in his turn bowed over her head. She glanced up at him. "So
Rude," she said, "he shouts at me so!" The Critic looked into her tired face and
said quite gently: "Don't worry. You are not the first person he has shouted at.
His manners were always bad." He gave a last look round the room and then he too
Finally the Television Personality produced a contract form and a cheque. Then
he in turn left, in a flurry of entourage and equpment. Annabel's in half and hour,
he thought. God, can I use a drink! Outside his chauffeur was waiting. A good
night for the old girl, though, he reflected as he climbed into his car, she'll
be in clover. The car sped away.
The little sitting - room had relapsed into its usual stuffy calm. The Medium
sat alone, half stunned, at the piano, a signed contract and a fat cheque by her
hand. She had done it. She'd be all right now - she and Puss. It all seemed very
odd, though. What had happened to Liszt? She sighed and looked up and over to the
empty corner of the sofa, the suddenly she smiled. "Oh well, thanks anyway." she
The Medium's Cat moved up along the dingy upholstery to the empty corner of the
sofa, then lolled back lazily, his head moving slowly from side to side. He began
to purr, as if someone was scratching his ear.