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


Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Elegy: A Dream

On 23 March 2016 I posted 'Elegy: Washington Square Revisited' about my loss of a significant "other." The poem is linked here. Whilst writing it I realized there was more to say about certain early life experiences. A fortuitous if unpleasant dream provided the occasion. 'Elegy: A Dream,' as with its predecessor, is written in my approximation to the classical elegiac metre, i.e. alternating alexandrines and pentameters, although I have added rhyme to the pentameters. It is 136 lines in length.


(Monday night, 25 November 2013)

I’m in a crowded railway station waiting room;
   There’s a holdup or problem on the line;
People throng out onto the platform to its edge,
   Craning and disaffected for a sign
Of what’s to blame. Following behind them I try
   To see through shoulders and complaining heads
With no success. A pretty, child-faced worried girl,
   Trapped in the crowd, is crushed as the press treads
To right and left. I help her to resist the sway
   And notice kindly that she’s big with child:
Her huge belly protrudes beneath a cotton top,
   And warm on the belly curve I’m beguiled
To see a smudge of birthmark, hinting mustily
   At that delighted passion and frank urge
Which made her gravid and uncertain on her feet.
   She sees my glance; she’s at the very verge
Of giving birth and seems distressed; I give my arm
   On which she leans, and pat her hand and say
She’s not to fear; so old, I’ve seen so many girls,
   Troubled at term, who, through the aching fray, 
Joy in the lusciousness of mothering their young.
   Assured, she lets me guide her through the pack
To sit out in the waiting room our forced delay;
   But in the cram she stops, taken aback
To find herself upon a ledge perhaps a yard
   Above me. Reaching to assist her down,
I grasp her swollen waist, trying to lift her weight
   Ruinously back to ground. With a cried frown,
Protesting from the first, she lands upon the platform, 
   Doubled in pain and clutching at her waist,
Sobbing in fear for her half-strangulated child.
   I crouch above her, heart-struck at my haste,
Burning in the disapproval of the shocked crowd.
   But worse, much worse, is the unfriendly surge
Of disabused dislike which floods from this young thing
   To nullify my clumsy help and purge
All thought of manful competence at sixty-plus.
   And then I woke into November dark –
Five-thirty on a freezing morning, pricked with sweat,
   Blasted by loathing, pierced as by the mark
Of Cain: O friend, what self-contempt engulfed me then,
   What gut-despair, that every scrupled act
Of kindliness, of self-evasive help to those 
   In woe, should end in misery, the fact
Of others’ scorn and brutal disavowal of
   My anxious efforts to achieve acceptance 
By binding someone's wounds. That self-demeaning knowledge,
   Harvest of years, imposes countenance
That here’s a problem threading from my earliest days.

Friday, 15 July 2016

The Republic of Yeah (Revised)

In April/May 2013 I wrote three poems on ‘the way things are’ – ‘A Biedermeir Age,’ ‘The Anthropological Turn’ and ‘The Republic of Yeah’ and posted them August-October 2014. I have come to think that the rhythms in all three were too rugged, even jagged, and have revised them for easier reading. The revised ‘A Biedermeir Age’ can be read here ; the revised ‘The Anthropological Turn’ can be read here
   The third poem, 'The Republic of Yeah' was posted on 11 October 2014 and like the others I have quietly amended it in situ. This cost me more hair-pulling than the others put together. The poem uses a complex stanza and rhyme scheme adapted from models in W.B. Yeats and that most-interesting Cornish poet, Jack Clemo. Hence, hemmed in by line and rhyme restraints, trying to rewrite was mind-boggling work. I suspect that rather than finishing the poem I've abandoned it as the best I can do. The revised 'The Republic of Yeah' can be read here

Friday, 8 July 2016

A Blackbird After Rain

The bird books tell you blackbirds stop singing after July until the following spring; although many may continue singing quietly to themselves in a sub-song or under-song, as if practising. However, where I was living at the time, one or two blackbirds would often launch into full song right up until November, usually in the late afternoon or after heavy rain.
   The poem is in blank verse.


Suddenly, after filthy rain a blackbird,
Lodged in a drooping-fingered cherry tree,
Launched into song, rebrightening the dank
And mud-besmirched November afternoon.
For weeks from the same perch this bird at dusk
Had fretted at the cherry leaves’ decay
And the chill unfriendliness of thinning air
With his persistent “jag-jag-jag” hurled at 
The fading lemon-green sky of evening. 
But now in thanks that the roaring welter had  
Declined it threw out loudly thrills of sound,
Sharp-toned and fluted, clear and perfectly
In pitch, with which on summer afternoons
It had made light liquid and stirred up heat
Into a wide-beaked incandescence of
Plangent beauty and frank incontinence.
In silhouette against the indigo
And slatey cloud-sheet, moving off to leave
Cold skies and a muddle-misted quarter moon, 
The blackbird sang its alto-treble descants,
Whooping ebulliently – his trademark since  
Claiming his ground in spring. But something cracked,
And clattering into a warning yell
He arrowed to a distant tree from which,
Reperched, he gruffly spat his “jag-jag-jag”
Again. Soon, spotting rain and thickened dusk,
Impenetrable as treacle, smothered him 
And shut him up for the night’s tense endurance. 
Unheard the last few days, it proved at least
He still subsisted now that food and warmth
Were scanting: may he still subsist come winter’s  
Open-vista’d blasts, rattling his feathers, 
So that mist-enshrouded on Christmas Day,
He’ll chorus in the snow-piled cherry tree 
Commending birth and the holly’s rich red berries, 
And then endure the famished ice-lands of
January’s neutered stillness, baleful through
February, March, until spring’s boiling blood
Urges him a’back his hen, begetting there 
New life, and harshly-proud he reascends 
His cherry bough, there to sing on, sing on. 

© November 2013

Thursday, 16 June 2016

The Anthropological Turn (Revised)

In April/May 2013 I wrote three poems on ‘the way things are’ – ‘A Biedermeir Age,’ ‘The Anthropological Turn’ and ‘The Republic of Yeah’ and posted them August-October 2014. I have come to think that the rhythms in all three were too rugged, even jagged, and have revised them for easier reading. The revised ‘A Biedermeir Age’ can be read here
   ‘The Anthropological Turn’ was posted on 14 September 2014. I have revised it in situ; the result can be read here
   The phrase “anthropological turn” was used by Catholic thinkers, in particular, to describe the revolution in thinking in the 1960s (at least in the West) which put man rather than God at the centre of all things.

Monday, 6 June 2016

A Fallen Bough

This is my first poem in syllabics for thirty years or more. The syllable count is 5 6 3 7 with no elisions; for good measure I introduced rhyme in the first and fourth lines of each stanza. I wrote quite a number of poems in syllabics when I was much younger; they are posted in the earlier pages of this blog. A couple of examples are 'Outside, a Blunt Wind Shatters...' here, a sonnet following the example of Elizabeth Daryush, a most interesting poet though largely forgotten now; and 'Hearing Thunder' here, using a model adapted from W.H. Auden who in turn used Alcaic and Asclepiadean models found in Hölderlin and in turn borrowed from their Greek originals. Poetic craft almost completely forgotten by today's younger poets! 


      In the dawning hours 
   A pounding weight of wind 
         Wrenched the house 
As if clambering powers 

      Burst Hades’ black walls.
   A morning’s drenching walk
         Through wrecked fields,
Wading ditches and leaf falls, 

      Found the wind-torn oak –
   A bough an arm’s-reach thick
         Ripped from its
Trunk by the brute gale, its cloak   

      Of leaves palling its
   Twisted corpse collapsed in  
         The mud-grass.
The October sun span glits  

      Of watery light
   On the brood of branches 
         Borne by the 
Thrown bough like Medusa’s fright

      Of hair. A wide third
   Of the oak’s crown had been 
         Dismembered –  
The bight broiled with the sky’s curd 

      Like the sea squirming
   Across a bay. A stark 
         Suede adit
On the trunk’s flank was firming

      Already into
   A lumpish thick-lipped scar,  
         Tannin-brown –  
A dank haven to accrue 

      Tree mould and birds’ bones.
   The bough stump, shattered to
         Fangs, gleamed white,
Sprinkled by the rain-wet groans 

      Of wind. Inspected,
   Its switchback limbs, dense with 
Elephant-bark, infected  

      By lichen pastes, grey
   And bilious, and caked 
         With soaked moss,  
Smelt mutedly of dunged hay –

      The raw exchanges 
   Of air and fatal life  
         Curtained from
Livers in heated granges.

      In seconds that bough,
   Gnarled grower of decades,
         Had staggered –
Felled by the wresting wind’s sough. 

      What hope for the finch,
   Then, bundled from a hedge
         By the blast,
Worn brittle by autumn’s pinch?

      Or us, tramping back 
   In cloud-smoke and rain-shot,
         One day to
Be sundered by our bones’ crack?

© November 2013


Thursday, 19 May 2016

A Biedermeir Age (Revised)

On 16 August 2014 I posted 'A Biedermeir Age,' a poem on 'the current state of things.' It was written in rugged ottava rima which I have come to think of as too rugged. Hence I have revised the poem for greater smoothness. I quietly amended the original posting which can be read here