Thursday, 30 August 2012

"Outside, a Blunt Wind Shatters..."

I was puzzled by this sonnet until analysis revealed what I had forgotten - it is written in syllabics.


Outside, a blunt wind shatters the September
Garden. Generals in a forest clearing
Shake hands on a truce, agree to dismember
A province. Bribed and fed, their troops start cheering.

Pulling the curtains on such loud-mouthed weather
A Head of Department must once have settled
To his work, sampling speeches bound in leather,
The province rich, the borders firm, roads metalled.

The world decays. What purpose now the marbled
Halls, booming with the counter-claims of lawyers?
Men are slaughtered; mercenaries in garbled
Lingo chatter at the killing like voyeurs.

And what is left of joy but lovers vainly
Flesh to flesh, hot in their love-clasp, ungainly?

© September 1983

Monday, 27 August 2012

"Descartes at Dinner Darkly Said"

Descartes at dinner darkly said,
“The pain that rattles in my head
Has turned the ages out of bed.
   I think, therefore I am.”

And Berkeley in his study thought,
“God does not sleep and was not taught,
Without His Being all is nought.
   He thinks, therefore we are.”

But Russell raised a sudden hand
And said, “You do not understand,
A person is as driven sand.
   There are, I fear, just thoughts.”

Spinoza smiled a secret smile
And scanned the heavens mile by mile;
The starlight walked upon the Nile
   And lit the ancient courts.



Descartes ignored the social round
And kept his ear upon the ground
To listen for the slightest sound
   And what it might unfold.

God sat on high and put a hand
Upon the tiny pineal gland;
He did not really understand
   But did as He was told.

The ancient systems fell away
And Galen had no more to say,
Poor Paracelsus left the fray
   And could not be consoled.

Now from my window all I see
Is mechanicians nervously
Rush to and fro like men set free:
   They shiver in the cold.


When Berkeley voyaged to the West
He doubted that Descartes knew best,
Instead he thought the world was blessed –
   The object of God’s thought.

The stones which threatened to depart,
And all the sticks which lay apart,
Now braced themselves for a new start –
   A vehicle for the ‘ought’.

Indeed, each time he closed his eyes
He did so trusting that the skies
Would not become a pack of lies
   And set the world at nought.

George Berkeley on his deathbed lay
And used his final strength to pray
That soon the night might yield to day
   And show the God he sought.


Lord Russell settled down to tea
To mix again agreeably
His sex-life and philosophy –
   The thesis and the bun.

The atoms that composed this lord
Grew restless and extremely bored
If by the time his tea was poured
   The talk had not begun.

He pointed out that none can say
Just why it is that night and day
Should alternate in such a way
   One by one by one.

But Russell on the North Wales coast
Inclined to pocket every boast
And understand what man needs most
   Beneath the setting sun.


Spinoza ground his lenses for
The pittance due to all the poor,
And loved God truly all the more
   No matter what might chance.

He honed his self-taught intellect
On metaphysics’ dialect
And made a Dutchman’s analect
   To answer that of France.

He thought this massive, starry frame –
A process which remains the same –
Worthy to be addressed by name,
   The apple of his glance.

And in the interstellar deep,
Where quarks are quick and do not keep,
The light years and the quasars leap
   In self-expressive dance.

© February 1980


Thursday, 9 August 2012

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?

Some had proposed that death – unbroken sleep –
Was not an ogre over which to weep;
   But Hobbes could not avoid the thought
   That all such thinkers had been bought,
That theirs were promises they could not keep.

And yet, the decades pass above his grave,
As lazy and as gentle as a wave;
   His dust, grown humble in the soil,
   Rests from its relentless toil,
Where marigolds and alyssum behave.

Death may be life ingathered in the Lord,
A timeless pulse within the timeless hoard;
   But in the air above his mound
   The celebrating jays go round –
Their cry a comment on the sheath├Ęd sword.

© June 1980