Monday, 21 November 2016

Spring and Meaning

This is in blank verse rhyming ABCB etc. and using half-rhymes. A much earlier attempt to capture something of spring is my free verse poem, "Before Spring," posted on 22 March 2012 and linked here.


A morning walk before the daily prayer,
Desk said, that words might purify to meaning:
The peak time traffic on the major road
This January day, spray wet, is streaming
Workwards urgently, grumblingly subpoenaed.
Across the road after a wind-taut night
Of slicing rain, opaque as cataract,
The common dazzles green, primed from that nought
Of winter’s mud-dull monochrome to freshen
Apprehension, hinting to creatures that
Strenuous pioneering calls them springward.
Swamping with crumpled shot-silk cloths the flat
Beside-road land, a rain lake, stippled languidly
By black-head gulls, theatrically shivers
Beneath a backhand cuff of wind. Above,
Astoundingly, a mighty vortex hovers,
Drifting around a core-hard eye of sun,
Gone grossly orange, lodged on the low horizon.
That iris, moist and flexing like a lens,
Alternately arranged its damask-blossom
Flounces of cloud with ribbons, lapis-blue,
Of the high sky. Time-slow in a staid motion,
It edged across the landscape, calming air
To lotions upon skin as if some Titian
Tawny-watered cloud scene, eirenic but           
Imbued with barely-leashed ferocity,
Had been transposed, stiffly to oversee
The purple bud-bulge poxing bush and tree
So that the whey-barked rowans, puddling in
The glossy rain swamps, or the piling wreckage
Of brambles, gauntly-limbed and cindered like
A burnt-out car, might, urged by the crow’s savage
Delight, embodied in its gear-jam scream,
For fruit and fledglings, mesh themselves once more
In the north-striding sun’s largesse of heat
And, leaping into leafage, haste to bear
Flower and seed. Then winter’s remnant creatures –
The starveling finch, the cold-eyed pouncing squirrel –
And panting homecomers like the screech swift,
One-mindedly build in a fecund quarrel,
Pupping, fledging, taking tooth to vermin,
And spring and summer in their busy doing,
By ligament and instinct thus become
The teeming sun-hot revelry of being.

Surely those cursing, short-fused motorists,
Racketing through spume, tight-necked at the wheel,
Brittle and drained as winter’s worn out husks,
Might cheer themselves by thought of the sun’s ball
Powering to intensity and largeness
Each passing deadpan day. And I, with sight
Of that light-pure funnel, spring’s blazon, in
The sky, turn to my desk indoors, that fraught
Plateau of struggle with guerrilla words
Which dash for camouflage within the gate
Of horn, hence finally to win a meaning
For which expression might be adequate.

© February 2014


Monday, 14 November 2016

January Robin

Another poem built around an observed robin, but which took a markedly different tack, being a meditation on length of days and mortality, is 'Longevity,' posted on 22 June 2015 and linked here.


January long a robin clung
To the cloud-high wands of a sycamore;
From morning dusk to evening gloam
It swayed in the sky and sang and hung.

Those wands, red-skinned in the low-sun sky,
And shaken like reeds by a slapping wind,
Clutched leaflessly at the floss-bunched clouds
Like suds on water circling by.

Absent to feed but soon returned,
That red-bibbed robin challenged all;
Tits and starlings were turfed off twigs,
Blackbirds jeered at until they adjourned.

A song so sweet, an ire so hot,
His fiery breast like glowing coals,
Come March, with heath and glade for food,
He’d want a mate, and young begot.

But by month’s end he disappeared,
The wands waved emptily through the day,
The gossipy starlings in busy groups
Bounced through the tree quite undeterred.

That robin, was he pinned as prey
By a rushing cat? Did he twist a wing
In a botched escape? Was he sick? Did he starve?
The thrashing sycamore will not say.

© February 2014


Saturday, 15 October 2016

A Commination

Agamemnon, journey-worn,
Enflamed himself with meat and wine;
Hearth fires’ flaring greasy heat
Revelled on walls at the king’s return.
The fruit-piled table, the roasted chine,
Drowsed his wits as he mused in state.

The spoils of Troy-war stacked on floors,
Cassandra dragged within the gate,
Blazons of triumph hoist on poles –
Clytemnestra slams the doors.
Knife-struck in his sweetbread gut,
Leaking blood, Agamemnon crawls.

Iphigenia wailed through rooms,
Ghost-joyous at his thrown-down fate;
His pouring blood upon the stones
Raged for vengeance and many tombs;
Those flags which, dried and browned like peat,
Had known Thyestes’ dying groans.
And still it is as then it was:
Orestes scorned the Furies’ wrath
To thrust his flesh-kin down to hell:
I in mind sweats, flecked and gross,
Tasting resentment’s bitter breath,
Long to requite what I must not tell.

© February 2014


Friday, 7 October 2016

Winter Night

My early free verse lyric, 'Mid-Winter Sun' gives a very different approach, more romantic and less tough, here. For an even more different approach one of my few poems from my early Marxist phase (how astonishing to think I had one), 'Going for the Paper' is here. In this, nature is very much subordinated to the material world. If I recall aright, the poem appeared in 'Tribune'.


(Sunday 19 January 2014 at 6.15 pm)
   This January night a rime
   Has blanched the brittle heathland grasses.
      A frosty mud-black track
Is picked by birches, bleak as frozen time; 
Their cranked branches deface the moon which passes,
      Frigid as Janus’ back.

   A high clear sky, a violet dome,
   Pocked by the stars’ rich sulphur-spots,
      Glints silently and still;
Cloud in a gauze-thin eddying of foam
Untidies the sky which, thickening, clots 
      To Venus, white and shrill.

   Spores of my breath, like new-mint worlds,
   Limp in the awe-hushed, gasping air;
      A coal-brown wall of woods,
Dark and visceral as to what it holds, 
Muffles all sound or stalking, though that lair
      Was burrowed in spilled bloods.

   Except, alarmed, a blackbird rackets 
   With a hard clap of wings on branch,
      Escaping threat; that crash – 
Ur-noise when blood and woods were young – jackets
Me in the hunter’s impulse-drop to haunch, 
      Kill-poised, eyes in a flash.

© January 2014

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Saturday, 11 January 2014

The rhyme in the second line of the first stanza becomes the rhyme in the first and fourth lines of the following stanza, and so on. The rhymes in the second and third lines of each stanza become the rhymes in the first and second lines of the following stanza. The third line of each stanza is a trochaic tetrameter. 'Stare' is another name for the starling.
   For a tougher picture of January see my lyric, 'January' in 'Months,' a series of poems on the months of the year, here - scroll down the post to find January.


Eighty-thirty on a January morn.
My garden sycamore flings fingers high,
   Greyly-green and lichen-dusted,
To wrap them in the flushed fresh sheets of dawn.

Dews of sunrise distilled the kohl-blue sky, 
And creeping bars of sunlight orange-rusted
   Walls and flaring window panes;
Cloudy as lemon squash, mist trickled by.

Atop the tree by morning breezes gusted,
A red-beard robin, fiery in his reins,
   Wildly yells breast-swollen brags,
Hen-wooing and by skirmish-scars encrusted.

Beneath, stiff-legged starlings like toys on canes
Blackly chatter, clapping their wings like flags;
   Bagatelling branch to branch
They tumble like a flail of glossy grains.

On lower branches, two old spinsters’ workbags –
Mild pigeons, greyly-powdered – glared askance;
   Primly-pained by the stares’ brawling
They lift their ruffs, wind-caught and fluffed to rags.

A squirrel leapt and made those starlings dance;
Club-tailed, Achilles-racing, climbing, crawling,
   Savagely it swung its claws –
The starlings fled; it gave a victor’s prance.

Come leaf-time, quarrelling will earnest; bawling,
Breeding, caparisoned, pursuing wars,
   Training fledglings with the tawse,
Bird, beast and man must shoulder the year’s hauling.

© January 2014

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Boxing Day

The rhyme scheme of this otherwise straightforward poem is more complicated than might appear in that two of the rhymes in the first, third and fifth stanzas etc. reappear reversed in the second, fourth and sixth stanzas etc. Also, the rhyme in the third line of each stanza reappears as the rhyme in the first and last lines of the following stanza. Hence, things are tightly bound together. Those interested can analyse it for themselves.


(December 2013)

And what a day after rank storm and wind!
The sky was a mild sea of cornflower blue
   Draped lacily with strings of cloud;
The sun hunched into an orange ball and grinned.

You felt its heat and so the birds rang loud,
An afternoon chorale, come all, come few,
   And, truly, sun heat on the skin
Straightened my back so that I stepped out proud.

Despite the sun, the air stung eyes like gin,
Breath clouded from my mouth in frothy puffs,
   But huddling into layered clothes
I lauded spring’s glad preview, bright as tin.

Among the trees, the blackbirds flicked like gloves,
And blue tits flustered, balls of ends and fluffs,
   The starlings fell and whirred like toys,
Crows were unfriendly, flinging croaks like shoves. 

The trees rose leafless in their chilly poise;
There was an ash with hung brown bags of keys,
   A birch with creamy curds of bark,
And both were lacquered by the birds’ rich noise.

Each bore a robin like a rust-red mark
On topmost branches dipping in the breeze;
   They faced each other crown to crown
And sang as if to out-compete the lark.

Such carolling to shame glum winter’s frown, 
Fresh-tuned as water falling in a pool, 
   Now sparkling like an arc of spray,
Now measured like the flow of waters brown.

Yet these two puffed their chests as if to bray
"Keep off, this tree is mine and knows my rule,
   Its grubs, its crannies, soon a mate;
Approach and totter in my direful sway."

For robins, nature’s muggers, love to rate,
And this pair, bright of breast with chestnut hat –
   Not singing to but shouting at
Like bloodied wrestlers longed to try their weight!

© January 2014


Friday, 19 August 2016

December Morning

Other December-themed lyrics are 'Mid-Winter Sun,' posted on 11 December 2011 and written in December 1979 (here) and 'Year's End,' posted on 27 November 2011 and written in August 1984 (here).


   This morning is tomb-dark.
It’s not till eight that brackish dawn 
      And the crow’s coarse, “Hark”
Announce daylight and the day’s work;
   Till then shadows yawn.

   But at six, the grave’s stillness
      And snow-fingered air 
Grope the dark with an embalmer’s care;
Outside, a robin coughs with illness,
   Ice flakes fall like cut hair.

   The window’s breath-encrusted,
Tap water runs freezing on skin,
   Clothes are damp-musted;
Landing air is frost-bound, rasping
      Faces like tin.

One day, ungainly in darkness
      With a lank head,
Chilled and gripping the sheet's cold spread,
   I’ll lie long, for death’s impress
   Will have harried my bed.

© December 2013