Friday, 13 October 2017

After Rain

Thistles and nettles after rain
Glow with edenic bliss again

When nothing pricked and nothing stang –
The serpent slept and sucked its fang;

Now raindrops gleam and leafage shines
And light enliquors tines and spines,

The only blot, the slug aslide
The thistle’s rainwashed spring-green hide,

Ulcerous, oozing, a mucous clot,
Emballing to a muscled knot

When prodded in its striate back –
Pockmarked brown and slime-glossed black:

Who can deny, post-eden days,
Old Nick still slithers at his ways,

Saucing spine and sharping bristle
Of nettles and the skin-snag thistle?

===============
© May 2014

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Samuel Johnson: Belated Anniversary of His Birth

Samuel Johnson was born on 18 Sept 1709 and it is well worthwhile remembering his anniversary. In June 1981 I wrote a poem, ‘On the Death-Mask of Samuel Johnson’. I posted it on my blogsite on 6 September 2012. There is a link here. I wrote the poem after being hugely impressed by Johnson’s poems and reading the recently-published mighty biography of Johnson by Walter Jackson Bate. Although I also remember giving up on ‘Rasselas’ after the first few chapters. My poem refers to a number of well-known biographical details of Johnson’s life. Below are the first five stanzas of the eight stanza poem. Those who read to the end will notice the imperfect rhyme in the last line. I was less sensitive to such things in those days; when I looked at the poem again in 2012 prior to posting I could not find an alternative which said what I wanted to say, hence the rhyme remains.

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ON THE DEATH-MASK OF SAMUEL JOHNSON

Silent in the toils of death
Sweet pugnacious Johnson lies,
No disturbance of a breath
Mars the thinking in his eyes.
Hard at work and hard at thought
Somewhere he makes headway with
Problems how a soul should live –
Once the teacher, now the taught.

Through the window in the street
Sooty sparrows feed and fight,
Citizens on business meet
To gull each other day and night.
Johnson and his commonsense,
Treating with the tragic muse,
Goes unnoticed by the queues
Wailing for their rightful pence.

Forms decay and mobs go out
Roaring that the streets are theirs,
Protest stumbles into rout,
Looters grab their fairer shares.
Ugly prophets, lithe of voice,
Put their callous point of view:
“Beat your neighbour – when you do
Make it plain you had no choice.”

Yet for all this public noise
Nothing is so altered that
Miseries give way to joys:
Every beggar has his hat,
Every child a bite of food,
But before a cheer can rise
Someone finds with angry cries
A violation of the good.

Johnson, Savage and the rest,
Walking London streets at night,
Talked till dawn about the best,
Argued Tory points of right;
Wary of what pundits bring
They agreed to drink a toast
When they might afford the cost,
“Gentlemen, God bless the King!”

Read the rest here.
 

Friday, 8 September 2017

A Kestrel

This poem is in syllabics. The syllable count is 11, 11, 9, 10. However, all contiguous vowels are elided, including dipthongs, and all vowels separated by the letters h and y. I think I'm right in saying (one can spend a lifetime analysing syllabic poems, even one's own) that where a vowel is involved in a double elision I dropped one of the elisions. That leaves four lines which are irregular, being one syllable short - including, embarrassingly, the first line. I knew that was the case when I wrote it and intended to regularise it before the poem was finished, but it became fixed in my mind and I could not find a satisfactory alternative. Hence, it remains. Rhyme is used in two places (at the end of stanzas five and sixteen) to indicate changes in the argument, and also at the end of the final stanza.

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Yes, indeed, men are busy on this working
Day: the fractious racketing of company cars
      And thundering shudder of forty
   Foot lorries, carrying comestibles to querulous 

Shoppers, gush along the sweaty tarmac of the
Arterial road like packets of data in a 
      Processor; above, on a low-backed hill,
   The napped flint church of the Sacred Heart communes

With its incensed innards, justifying the
Boredom of sunny afternoons with the dozing
      Paperwork of baptisms and banns;
   Across the road on a scrub margin of the heath

Mayne’s travelling funfair, garishly assembling
For bank holiday, is deserted and closed, although
      Behind the dodgems a man and two
   Boys wrangle with the gearbox of a kiddie’s ride,

Forlornly striving to ensure that artifice
Somehow outflank reality. Come holiday, the biped 
      Thinker, unthinking, will crowd the rides, 
   Flung back and forth with the pointlessness of tides.

Walking the heath this mid-spring day the blustering
Wind is chilly, though a blue sky backdrops a flock of 
      Sheepy cumulus clouds, their undersides ragged
   And grubby with a tendency to leak like

The incontinent young. Resolved as trekkers they angle
The sky on a transhumance of immemorial
      Usage, chivvied by a huffy Zephyrus.
   Skirting an eight foot bank impenetrably grown

With cow parsley, thistles and hawthorns rankly
Finishing their flowering – goldfinch and ruddy
      Linnets, crackling like static, were bouncing
   In their musky shadow – swiftly a kestrel

Swept across my view, steel-grey and swathed in dun, dried-leaf camouflage;
Purposive it followed the bank when suddenly
      Swerving and rising to, what, thirty feet?
   It veered out over the couch-grass and hung starkly still,

Black against the wave-blue and cloud-grey sky, its wings like scythes.
Despite the fickleness of the gusting wind
      It held its station like a salmon at foot of
   A slumping waterfall, rocking, dipping,

But scarcely slipping from its chosen fulcrum.
Glib hunter, your beak a barbed agate, adept at tearing flesh,
      Your claws tucked up like babies’ fists, resting on
   Air like a taut sheet, sleek as a bullet, slam as a grenade!

Monday, 4 September 2017

Goldfinch

Goldfinch are beautiful little birds with a beautiful non-stop chattery song. I posted another short poem, 'King Harry Redcap,' about them on 15 August 2015 here .

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   What a window clatter!
      On wire and eave
      Goldfinch chatter –
Mummers in their livery.
Crimson casques and golden capes
Prank their jumbling oratory,
   Artless to deceive
   Like Philomel in drapes.

   Or sunk in bramble bushes,
      Noisy as water,
      Red-faced as gashes,
Greedily embezzling seed
Goldenly discussed on thistles,
Artisans of present need,
   They prattle laughter
   At the wind’s rude whistles.

===============
© May 2014

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Robin and Leaf

Seen at 8.30 am on Monday 5 May 2014.

A day of rocking wind
   Beneath a May-blue sky;
A loud-voiced robin dinned
   The copse, haughtily high
On a maple’s green crown,
Its song, droplets thrown down.

Flung like a cork on seas
   The robin frankly shrilled,
The tree without surcease
   Quivered and the leaves thrilled
In shivers, flashing pale
Like flags thrashed in a gale.

At once, a leaf, wind-thrown,
   Enfurled that flame-chest rowd;
Unfussed it hurled its moan
   Like a corpse in a shroud
Stubborn to have its shout
Against the grave’s long drought.

Ah redbreast, shrilly brave,
   Would that your hothead song,
Warming the air’s cold nave
   Summer and autumn long,
Might soften winter snow
That the aconite glow.

===============
© May 2014

A Tree Stump

Four little poems which simply record what I saw.

--------------

i.

A lime tree felled, its three-foot stump
For days continued drawing sap
From blind-eyed roots which like a pump
Spread liquor on the stump’s blond lap.

Fermenting in the sun’s May heat
It bulked with sawdust like a gruel,
For sipping ants and spiders, meat,
Though flashing like a prism’d jewel.

Such doggedness and will to live!
May I, now dropping hair and teeth,
When lopped by time no less contrive
To dazzle with my final breath!

May 2014

ii. A Tree Stump (Afterthought)

Now weeks have passed that stump has set
Into a shelf of leather brown
Hardened by summer’s grin or frown
And the day’s whim, now parched, now wet.

The grain is glossy, crosscut by
A pattern from the chainsaw’s blades;
All’s polished into hard-gleam shades
As by the weather’s husbandry.

Tanned and toughened like a dried corse,
Aglint in noonday’s heavy sun,
Senseless it sleeps as the weeks run
Dumb to memory or remorse.

June 2014

iii. A Tree Stump (Again)

Two months later, passing that way
In the chill morn of a damp day,
Bemused I saw the stump had sprung
A whorl of leaves, all freshly slung:

Dew-dropped and dimpled as a hand,
Through the grey-walled bark, rough like sand,
Sea-water green they squeezed to life,
Toothsome as vegetables for the knife.

Truly, from the first Big Bang leap
A force in nature does not sleep;
So these frail leaves in the bark’s grist
Struggle to life and will not desist.

August 2014

iv. A Tree Stump (Final)

But in one month the tale was done,
The stump was grubbed; a shallow hole
Of dowdy chippings, shrunk in sun,
Is all that’s left, where cats now roll.

September 2014

===============
© May-September 2014

 

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

The Paper Seller

This poem is self-evident and based on observation. It is interesting to compare it to a much earlier poem, "Going for the Paper," written during my Marxist phase in the 1970s and posted here on 23 November 2013. Here is a link. The earlier poem is grittier but more syllabic than iambic. It was published in "Tribune," the socialist weekly, as I recall.

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   For years he kept a paper stall
   From dawn to noon, in heat and cold;
   The out-town station, rush hour-thronged,
   Knew him as stork-like, thin and tall.
   A decade gone, now bent and old,
He wanders lanes whey-faced, intense, untongued.

   In dirty T-shirt, flapping coat – 
   Bright sun, wet snow, it makes no odds -
   He rifles bins and, poignantly, 
   Retrieves old papers, then to tote
   Them homewards in thick soggy wads
Where window-piled they moulder yellowly.

   Unkempt of hair, with sockless shoes,
   Rifling gutters for mis-dropped cash,
   His neighbours keep a chill restraint;
   His house is dark, like a puce bruise,
   With shattered brick and crumbling sash
And wet rot bubbling under flaking paint.

   But once he bantered, doling change,
   Knowing a hundred folk by sight,
   His papers crisp in winter’s air;
   The station lights must now seem strange
   As, shunned, he shuffles day and night
Clutching pennies to pay his final fare.

===============
© May 2014