Thursday, 8 June 2017

April Heavy Days

These April heavy days of thunderous warmth
Drape palls of fustian in the young-leafed trees;
Robins and blackbirds, vocal in their stealth,
Stalk verge and hedgerow in the heat-full breeze.

Like iodine swabs the thunderheads cohere,
The crows go silent in their startled strut,
Hushed heat throws blankets on the rattling weir
And big-eyed raindrops pox a mud-hard rut.

With a crack, like the blood welt from a whip,
Black-quarelled rain gallons the frothing earth,
The thick-fogged clouds, opaque as mine dust, rip
Thunder through the fir trees where jays take berth:

The down-swamp done, a lop-tongued iris lurches
Tall, and day’s heat steams in the world-fresh birches.

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© April 2014


 
 

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Epigrams

The earliest of these fourteen epigrams was written in March 2014 and the latest in May 2015. Regarding the second of the epigrams on Pope Francis (not my favourite person), Mr Justin Welby, who calls himself archbishop, on visiting the Pope in June 2014, and with the whole wealth of Christian art and symbol to choose from, presented him with a potted plant. And as regards the third, the Pope invited the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to the Vatican gardens in June 2014 to plant olive trees for peace; by July Israel and Hamas were at war.

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   How odd
That we who daily defecate,
With airs and graces imprecate
   Our God.

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   That such as I,
Coiled through with crabbish spite,
A latheman’s lacklust son,
Should prism the pure light
Of words, glossing each one,
   Splitting the sky!
 
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World-eyed Agamemnon slept
Tomb-enwrapped in dust-deep years;
Hellene logos, Christian light
Chest-protuding warfare kept;
Muslim trumpets’ brawling jeers
Struck Byzantium’s ramparts down,
Danube’s wheatlands in their sight;
Waking, Homer’s gods made frown,
Mourning shrines and polis sacked:
Agamemnon’s death mask cracked.
 
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   Moses, Buddha, Christ, Confucius,
Proclaim their teachings, firm as fact,
   Revelation’s not in doubting,
Salvation is to know and act.

   Sui generis their claims
Though not the myths of busy fools,
   Natural law, “thou shalt” and “not”,
Fruitfully nestles in their rules.

   Hence, unproven though some say,
Religion should be lived “as if”
   Things divine were true and not
“Because”, cannily liege and lief.

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His going out is from the end of heaven, and his circuit even to the end thereof.” Psalm 18.

The universe is infinite
   Say some,
Expanding from a big bang point
   Say more,
So where’s the centre? Where are you?
   That’s where.

Where consciousness is self-aware
   Say some,
The universe itself is conscious
   Say more,
And self-awareness is the centre
   That’s where.

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Though all exceptionalisms I believed,
Such as the American, were for the dogs,
In fact I grandly believed in personal
Exceptionalism but illness cured me.

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Why strive to crowd your cave
With young, a girl, a son?
The grave takes all we have;
The young die, Death goes on.

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Monday, 8 May 2017

A Mosquito Bite

Note: The first stanza and the final line of the last stanza are adapted from Longfellow’s translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

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Three quarters through the journey of my life
I found myself within a forest dark,
The straight path lost like an abandoned knife.

Dislodging creepers, prodding crumbled bark,
I pondered fecund August’s many hordes
Of stiff-legged insects blatant at their work:

Some like the beetle, cuirassed and with swords,
Some like the spider with its hard-jawed bite,
Others like larvae dangling on their cords,

Mucously-deporting in the pool-bright
Sumps of sun. Querying the dusty gloom
I failed to notice a mosquito’s flight:

It settled slyly like a flake of loam
On my hand’s back and, slung between its legs,
Innocuously squatted down to groom.

Distracted by the pigeons’ cooing brags,
Moments later a needle-crafty sting
Alerted me the gnat was drilling dregs

From my itchy skin. I slapped – it tried to cling – 
I swept it off and wandered on. Next day
That bite had swollen to a hot red grin;

By day’s end it had wrapped a purple-grey
Wadding of throbbing flesh from nail to wrist,
Immobilising fingers as they lay

Enfeebled in my lap. Three days that fist, 
A heat-stuffed bladder gone obesely fat,
Was useless till the venom flushed and I could twist 

My joints once more. I thought: no insect that 
So suffered would survive: ichneumon wasps
Which paralyse their fated prey so that

Their larvae, hatched, may eat the living hosts
Are emblematic of the natural world,
Its blank-eyed deafness to the screams and gasps

Of plundered creatures. When compassion’s furled 
Like dandelions on a glooming day
And lions do not nestle down with curled

Wet lambs, where is the love which wipes away
All tears and fashions ploughshares out of swords?
That ground of being which insists this clay

Maintain existence like unnumbered gourds
Toppling helplessly on a barren slope,
Described but not explained by blindfold words –

Is it brute necessity devoid of hope, 
A surd, an aimless dream within a dream,
Or is it meaning’s meaning, truth not trope?

Monday, 24 April 2017

The Triumph of Islam

“That England that was wont to conquer others
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.”
                                        (Richard II, 2:1, 65-6)
 
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Sorrowful tramp of boots on sanded streets:
In winter’s grey, sad companies of men
Manhandle Churchill’s coffin with dull beats
Of drum and growling brass. Grown men and children
Sag heads and make their peace, and St Pauls greets
The last of England, mourned in fen and glen:
The state he served, those thin wan faces tell,
Has hollowed like the booming, death-march bell.

Mere thirty years from Pericles’ repose
Refulgent Athens died in Sparta’s fist.
In Ludgate Hill foxish lawyers at their windows
Watched Churchill pass and since have ticked their list
Of state-upturning statutes which in prose
Have sundered epic: mealy “one-world” grist
Which Albion’s beaches ramped with unjust laws
Bringing the millioned umma to these shores.

That stocky soldiery, those weeping folk,
That stark January day, in thirty years
Fast shrivelled to an untamed tribe bespoke
On sink estates of pierced lips and ears,
Their pride as great-strength oxen at the yoke
Neutered by those lawyers’ brats whose fears   
Of nation-love have brewed with other spawn
A curdled rainbow in a sullen dawn.

On Sundays Finsbury Park is loud with trade,
Hijab and djellaba command the scene,
A church where once the liturgy was prayed
Disgorges carpets of a Turkish sheen,
The mosques are brimming, that which kept the shade
Tide-like swamps suburbs with the muezzin’s keen;
Soon, time-old villages, deep-valleyed towns,
Will startle as that cold wave slaps and drowns.

The crop-rich fields and gorse-bedazzled moors
Enfold two thousand years of Christ-men’s cells,
Those chapels, caves, where what’s eternal pours
Through being, fruitful as baptismal shells:
All lost; a rotted people slamming doors
Against its past must pander to the yells
Of ghazis who in church and manor halls
Gouge mihrabs in those age-encrusted walls.

April 2014

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Note:
Umma – the worldwide Muslim ‘community’.
Baptismal shells – there is a long history in the Church of the use of shells as scoops during baptism.
Ghazi – a Muslim warrior particularly one who fights against non-Muslims.
Mihrab – a prayer niche indicating the direction of Mecca.

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© April 2014

 

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.

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THOMAS HOBBES

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.)
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HOMAGE TO W. H. AUDEN, 21ST FEBRUARY 1981

(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.

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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.

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© March 2014