Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Thomas Hobbes Anniversary on 5 April 2017

Thomas Hobbes, that mighty and rugged political philosopher, was born on 5 April 1588 and was 91 when he died - an astonishing age for his era. Surprisingly, given the toughness of his thought, he had an aversion to the idea of death; his reported last words just before he died were, "A great leap in the dark." In June 1980 I wrote a poem in memory of him and posted it on this blogsite on 9 August 2012. Here are the first three stanzas of this six stanza poem together with a link to the rest.



Hobbes thought of death with something like disgust
And argued fiercely with that strict “you must”;
   The long debate from day to day
   Wound slowly on its pointless way
Though now the consequences are but dust.

I think of him struck speechless late at night
As every nerve and limb rebelled in fright;
   His brooding on the charnel worm,
   As active as a common germ,
Was like a tooth which hurt him at each bite.

But worse was fury at the blank unbeing
Which stalked his spirit on the point of fleeing:
   How could the creature muse upon
   The moment when it was undone,
When all the world would turn without his seeing?

(Read the rest of the poem here)

Friday, 17 February 2017

W. H. Auden Anniversary on 21 February 2017

W. H. Auden, one of my early poetic heroes, was born on 21 February 1907. I wrote a homage to him in February 1981; the poem was published in ‘Agenda’ magazine as I recall. I posted the poem on this blogsite on 22 February 2012. Here are the first four stanzas of this eleven stanza poem together with a link to the rest. (Regarding the reference to Poland in the sixth stanza: the late 1970s/early 80s were, of course, the years of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and the latest confrontation between the Poles and their Russian overlords.)


(W. H. Auden: born 21 February 1907; died 29 September 1973)

Today a late descent of snow
Has taught a grievous lesson to
The gaudy paper crocuses.
A thrush with nowhere safe to go
Beats vainly at an empty shell
Whilst clouds which have a purple hue
Prepare their freezing viper’s kiss.
Dear Master of the singing line
Your birth-month in a fierce pell-mell
Knows nothing of the Muses Nine.

I who am the essence of
The down-at-heel South London type,
Who never walked the chilly Dales
Nor thought of rusting cams with love,
But rather from a T.V. screen
Imbibed a sort of mongrel hype
(There were, though, holidays in Wales)
Give greetings to your memory –
A sort of learned, boozy Dean –
And offer you humility.

Your poems and your measured prose
To one whose schooling was perverse
Were like a sortie to a vault
Where books were stored in endless rows
And where the stacks of classic lines
Like golden guineas in a purse
Brought me to a sudden halt.
Horace, Dryden, Goethe, Swift,
In every chamber of those mines
Were treasures like a proffered gift.

Horace and his worldly art,
Dryden on the polity,
Goethe saving Faust from hell,
Swift about to break his heart,
All sought to be absurdly true
To visions of maturity;
And you with your preceptor’s bell,
Investigating moral norms,
Passed on the gift received by you –
A marvellous deftness with the forms.

(The rest of the poem can be read here )


Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Chill Days

This poem uses half-rhymes in the second and fourth lines of each stanza.


Equator-crossed the sun grows fat,
Pricking shoots to white-legs growth,
Though midden-mist and boot-wet frost
Rattle the cowman’s morning cough –
   These chill days.

Christmas days thieved autumn’s warmth,
Though ’piphany days were ice-chunk hard;
Now March and April’s cuckoo hours
With fox-grey cloud and hail make laud –
   These chill days.

The loose-lipped gaffer, dry of sap,
Unsteady stands on shrunken legs;
Not so the chestnut, fat for leaf
With treacled buds like big-thumbed figs –
   These chill days.

Wind-busied sleet begins to fall,
Bobbling among bare-fingered trees;
Buttermilk sunshine grins and sets
The yellow aconite ablaze –
   These chill days.

© March 2014

Friday, 20 January 2017

"Come." (Revised)

On 24 November 2015 I posted my long blank verse poem, "Come," which discussed how cultures can be destroyed by internal rot and mass immigration. Like several of the poems I wrote around that time I came to feel the verse was too rugged for its own good. I therefore revised the poem in September/October 2016 but have only got round to posting the revision now. I still can't say I'm completely happy with the poem but it is probably better than it was. The revised version has been posted in situ and can be read here

Thursday, 12 January 2017

On Death

For the reference to Ezechias see Isaias 38 and 4 Kings 20 (Douay-Rheims).


Death, you are everywhere; you have claimed me.
Your long-toothed mortician is always strolling
The busy streets, thrusting a hand of friendship
To such-a-one and such-a-one who by
The time they hobble to their lodging know
Too well the crusty leprous wart upon
Their wrist portends the whispered midnight meeting,
When the veiled clinician with his piercing eyes
Will cast a pall across their withered faces
And barely-pleading lips, and with a lurch
Unmanning all the stubborn struts of place
They’ll hurtle horrified into a soot-black
Otherness where neither span nor compass
Provides a measure to define their state.
Their bodies heaped upon a flustered bed
Or slumped like thrown-off clothes upon the floor,
They’ve gone into a glade where none who tread
The path’s unctuous mud can follow – yet.

Oh why then, why, should Ezechias beg
The Lord that, sick to death, He drag him back
From midnight’s poising to depart? The tock
Of fifteen years was granted, sweated with
Anguish that summer’s drowsy, fly-pocked stream
At depth was flushing by in dailiness,
Until once more, his face pressed to the wall,
A hand would seize his elbow and require
He turn his eyes to parley with the doom
Prevarication had trumped up in terror.
How blessed are those whom death took cleanly young!

Therefore young friend, spared now, one day you’ll know
On waking that unwelcomely besieged
By these pains and those pains you’re fit to die,
That ill-health’s ashy skin, ebb energy
And slacken-mouth despair are preludes to
The pitiless denouement of extinction.
Be it dog, absconded ram or palsied man
Fallen in briars, those carcases will rot
To stenching muddy molecules; and if
There’s any glorious rassemblement,
It’s only after Physics’ glossy strings
Cut by the weaver have snapped back to allow
Your plummet like a splay-limbed infant slipped
From the goodwife’s hands. Oh friend, sundered in
Extremis, pinioned against death’s gate,
Sorrow’s quittance beckons; go through, why wait?

© March 2014

February Rain Storm

Painful as a knotted flail
   Beating on skin,
The punch-whistling wind
   Numbs your chin.

The spume-spinning rain,
   Glittering like glass,
Hiss-dances on roofs,
   Noxious as gas.

The bare-masted sycamore
   Wallows ungainly,
Flinging off finches
   Like souls in the sea.

The dirt-dark clouds
   Like heavy sponges
Daub across fields;
   Lightning lunges.

© February 2014


Friday, 9 December 2016

In Memoriam: Barrington Milson, d. 2004

Barrington Milson was one of the most extraordinary people I have ever met. A high flying executive in international business until a complete breakdown or spiritual experience, the reader must decide, reduced him to footloose penury, he had settled and found a certain calm in Penzance, Britain's most westerly town. He had wonderful 'presence' and a mind well-stocked in theology, philosophy and spirituality, and the times we spent together discussing ideas and the world are, for me, an indelible memory. In the space of four quick years Alzheimer's destroyed him. I miss him to this day.
   This elegy is written in my simplified version of classical elegiac metre, i.e. alternating dactylic hexameters with dactylic pentameters. The metre of Longfellow's 'Evangeline' is similar - although Longfellow, following common practice, replaced the final dactyl with a spondee, whereas I have kept the final dactyl.
   Note: Wherry Town is a seafront area of Penzance; Penwith is the wider administrative area which includes Penzance. 


Years ago, bunkered in granite, those misted and rain-shallied alleys of
   Wind-hit Penzance, giving shelter to fishermen’s families,
Mingled with self-doubting artists and awkward Joannas from whom the world
   Turned away, Barrington – God-sunk announcer of spiritual                          
Terrors – we met, and with wine and the mind’s busy raids on the Absolute
   Firmly were pals until death showed its teeth and so snatched you off.
Friend, you knew well your advantage in looks, pliant charm and authority –
   Spirited ladies were limply susceptible! Worldliness
Gifted you, youth no objection, with status and money, executive
   Power which arched over continents – plane travel, meetings to
Settle expenditure, marketing targets and fire up the laggardly.
   God intervened – call it Fate if you wish – throwing down from that
Height careless pride; tumbling soul to a valley of horrors where satyrs and
   Beelzebub rummaged in guts, twisting spirit so only a
Vague simulacrum survived, to be thrust back at life barely able to
   Manage as visions and voices enthralled you with secrets – those
Riddles from God which, unwrapped like a codex, but hinted at more and yet
   More shrouded knowledge until weary-eyed, become shriven of
Flesh, you erupted in anguished revolt, spinning hard from, yet seeking out,
   God’s unresponding, sustaining, emotionless majesty –
Merciful, merciless, seemingly one and the same. And so, broils upon
   Broils overwhelmed you – the insight that only by breasting the
Absolute’s merciless absence and hopelessly clutching it, fevered and
   Retching in pain, might one flush out the merciful Presence which
Maybe is but to collapse, bone and skin, on Its breast and to sink without
   Stain into Being’s eternity. Barrington, who can cross
Chasms like that? All position, respect and your place at the tables of
   Influence, home and possessions, were lost, and good-manneredly –
Suavely, perhaps, for unable by code to be vulgar – you took to the
   Lanes and the mudways of England and Wales, even sleeping in
Snow-drifts in fields, and avoiding a soaking by dodging in barns, ever
   Loath to see people, so stirring those torments you bore in your
Heart, until foot-hurt and blighted in brain, seeking solace in salty-aired
   Cornwall’s far west, you dropped anchor in old Penzance town, soothed by
Scurrying winds and the howling insurgency gulls frankly flung at their
   Maker – such Nietzschean graspers of life! In your bedsit I
Found you engaged in deciphering messages hushed in the Gospels by
   Formulae shown you in dreams though each fragment of insight but
Pointed to further conundrums. Blind writings and sortilege offered no
   Breakthrough and day after day you entreated your neatly kept 
Musings to flare to transparency, showing at last the lost reason why
   God had destroyed you, abandoned to ridicule, penniless.