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.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Spring and Meaning

This is in blank verse rhyming ABCB etc. and using half-rhymes. A much earlier attempt to capture something of spring is my free verse poem, "Before Spring," posted on 22 March 2012 and linked here.


A morning walk before the daily prayer,
Desk said, that words might purify to meaning:
The peak time traffic on the major road
This January day, spray wet, is streaming
Workwards urgently, grumblingly subpoenaed.
Across the road after a wind-taut night
Of slicing rain, opaque as cataract,
The common dazzles green, primed from that nought
Of winter’s mud-dull monochrome to freshen
Apprehension, hinting to creatures that
Strenuous pioneering calls them springward.
Swamping with crumpled shot-silk cloths the flat
Beside-road land, a rain lake, stippled languidly
By black-head gulls, theatrically shivers
Beneath a backhand cuff of wind. Above,
Astoundingly, a mighty vortex hovers,
Drifting around a core-hard eye of sun,
Gone grossly orange, lodged on the low horizon.
That iris, moist and flexing like a lens,
Alternately arranged its damask-blossom
Flounces of cloud with ribbons, lapis-blue,
Of the high sky. Time-slow in a staid motion,
It edged across the landscape, calming air
To lotions upon skin as if some Titian
Tawny-watered cloud scene, eirenic but           
Imbued with barely-leashed ferocity,
Had been transposed, stiffly to oversee
The purple bud-bulge poxing bush and tree
So that the whey-barked rowans, puddling in
The glossy rain swamps, or the piling wreckage
Of brambles, gauntly-limbed and cindered like
A burnt-out car, might, urged by the crow’s savage
Delight, embodied in its gear-jam scream,
For fruit and fledglings, mesh themselves once more
In the north-striding sun’s largesse of heat
And, leaping into leafage, haste to bear
Flower and seed. Then winter’s remnant creatures –
The starveling finch, the cold-eyed pouncing squirrel –
And panting homecomers like the screech swift,
One-mindedly build in a fecund quarrel,
Pupping, fledging, taking tooth to vermin,
And spring and summer in their busy doing,
By ligament and instinct thus become
The teeming sun-hot revelry of being.

Surely those cursing, short-fused motorists,
Racketing through spume, tight-necked at the wheel,
Brittle and drained as winter’s worn out husks,
Might cheer themselves by thought of the sun’s ball
Powering to intensity and largeness
Each passing deadpan day. And I, with sight
Of that light-pure funnel, spring’s blazon, in
The sky, turn to my desk indoors, that fraught
Plateau of struggle with guerrilla words
Which dash for camouflage within the gate
Of horn, hence finally to win a meaning
For which expression might be adequate.

© February 2014


Monday, 14 November 2016

January Robin

Another poem built around an observed robin, but which took a markedly different tack, being a meditation on length of days and mortality, is 'Longevity,' posted on 22 June 2015 and linked here.


January long a robin clung
To the cloud-high wands of a sycamore;
From morning dusk to evening gloam
It swayed in the sky and sang and hung.

Those wands, red-skinned in the low-sun sky,
And shaken like reeds by a slapping wind,
Clutched leaflessly at the floss-bunched clouds
Like suds on water circling by.

Absent to feed but soon returned,
That red-bibbed robin challenged all;
Tits and starlings were turfed off twigs,
Blackbirds jeered at until they adjourned.

A song so sweet, an ire so hot,
His fiery breast like glowing coals,
Come March, with heath and glade for food,
He’d want a mate, and young begot.

But by month’s end he disappeared,
The wands waved emptily through the day,
The gossipy starlings in busy groups
Bounced through the tree quite undeterred.

That robin, was he pinned as prey
By a rushing cat? Did he twist a wing
In a botched escape? Was he sick? Did he starve?
The thrashing sycamore will not say.

© February 2014


Saturday, 15 October 2016

A Commination

Agamemnon, journey-worn,
Enflamed himself with meat and wine;
Hearth fires’ flaring greasy heat
Revelled on walls at the king’s return.
The fruit-piled table, the roasted chine,
Drowsed his wits as he mused in state.

The spoils of Troy-war stacked on floors,
Cassandra dragged within the gate,
Blazons of triumph hoist on poles –
Clytemnestra slams the doors.
Knife-struck in his sweetbread gut,
Leaking blood, Agamemnon crawls.

Iphigenia wailed through rooms,
Ghost-joyous at his thrown-down fate;
His pouring blood upon the stones
Raged for vengeance and many tombs;
Those flags which, dried and browned like peat,
Had known Thyestes’ dying groans.
And still it is as then it was:
Orestes scorned the Furies’ wrath
To thrust his flesh-kin down to hell:
I in mind sweats, flecked and gross,
Tasting resentment’s bitter breath,
Long to requite what I must not tell.

© February 2014


Friday, 7 October 2016

Winter Night

My early free verse lyric, 'Mid-Winter Sun' gives a very different approach, more romantic and less tough, here. For an even more different approach one of my few poems from my early Marxist phase (how astonishing to think I had one), 'Going for the Paper' is here. In this, nature is very much subordinated to the material world. If I recall aright, the poem appeared in 'Tribune'.


(Sunday 19 January 2014 at 6.15 pm)
   This January night a rime
   Has blanched the brittle heathland grasses.
      A frosty mud-black track
Is picked by birches, bleak as frozen time; 
Their cranked branches deface the moon which passes,
      Frigid as Janus’ back.

   A high clear sky, a violet dome,
   Pocked by the stars’ rich sulphur-spots,
      Glints silently and still;
Cloud in a gauze-thin eddying of foam
Untidies the sky which, thickening, clots 
      To Venus, white and shrill.

   Spores of my breath, like new-mint worlds,
   Limp in the awe-hushed, gasping air;
      A coal-brown wall of woods,
Dark and visceral as to what it holds, 
Muffles all sound or stalking, though that lair
      Was burrowed in spilled bloods.

   Except, alarmed, a blackbird rackets 
   With a hard clap of wings on branch,
      Escaping threat; that crash – 
Ur-noise when blood and woods were young – jackets
Me in the hunter’s impulse-drop to haunch, 
      Kill-poised, eyes in a flash.

© January 2014

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Saturday, 11 January 2014

The rhyme in the second line of the first stanza becomes the rhyme in the first and fourth lines of the following stanza, and so on. The rhymes in the second and third lines of each stanza become the rhymes in the first and second lines of the following stanza. The third line of each stanza is a trochaic tetrameter. 'Stare' is another name for the starling.
   For a tougher picture of January see my lyric, 'January' in 'Months,' a series of poems on the months of the year, here - scroll down the post to find January.


Eighty-thirty on a January morn.
My garden sycamore flings fingers high,
   Greyly-green and lichen-dusted,
To wrap them in the flushed fresh sheets of dawn.

Dews of sunrise distilled the kohl-blue sky, 
And creeping bars of sunlight orange-rusted
   Walls and flaring window panes;
Cloudy as lemon squash, mist trickled by.

Atop the tree by morning breezes gusted,
A red-beard robin, fiery in his reins,
   Wildly yells breast-swollen brags,
Hen-wooing and by skirmish-scars encrusted.

Beneath, stiff-legged starlings like toys on canes
Blackly chatter, clapping their wings like flags;
   Bagatelling branch to branch
They tumble like a flail of glossy grains.

On lower branches, two old spinsters’ workbags –
Mild pigeons, greyly-powdered – glared askance;
   Primly-pained by the stares’ brawling
They lift their ruffs, wind-caught and fluffed to rags.

A squirrel leapt and made those starlings dance;
Club-tailed, Achilles-racing, climbing, crawling,
   Savagely it swung its claws –
The starlings fled; it gave a victor’s prance.

Come leaf-time, quarrelling will earnest; bawling,
Breeding, caparisoned, pursuing wars,
   Training fledglings with the tawse,
Bird, beast and man must shoulder the year’s hauling.

© January 2014

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Boxing Day

The rhyme scheme of this otherwise straightforward poem is more complicated than might appear in that two of the rhymes in the first, third and fifth stanzas etc. reappear reversed in the second, fourth and sixth stanzas etc. Also, the rhyme in the third line of each stanza reappears as the rhyme in the first and last lines of the following stanza. Hence, things are tightly bound together. Those interested can analyse it for themselves.


(December 2013)

And what a day after rank storm and wind!
The sky was a mild sea of cornflower blue
   Draped lacily with strings of cloud;
The sun hunched into an orange ball and grinned.

You felt its heat and so the birds rang loud,
An afternoon chorale, come all, come few,
   And, truly, sun heat on the skin
Straightened my back so that I stepped out proud.

Despite the sun, the air stung eyes like gin,
Breath clouded from my mouth in frothy puffs,
   But huddling into layered clothes
I lauded spring’s glad preview, bright as tin.

Among the trees, the blackbirds flicked like gloves,
And blue tits flustered, balls of ends and fluffs,
   The starlings fell and whirred like toys,
Crows were unfriendly, flinging croaks like shoves. 

The trees rose leafless in their chilly poise;
There was an ash with hung brown bags of keys,
   A birch with creamy curds of bark,
And both were lacquered by the birds’ rich noise.

Each bore a robin like a rust-red mark
On topmost branches dipping in the breeze;
   They faced each other crown to crown
And sang as if to out-compete the lark.

Such carolling to shame glum winter’s frown, 
Fresh-tuned as water falling in a pool, 
   Now sparkling like an arc of spray,
Now measured like the flow of waters brown.

Yet these two puffed their chests as if to bray
"Keep off, this tree is mine and knows my rule,
   Its grubs, its crannies, soon a mate;
Approach and totter in my direful sway."

For robins, nature’s muggers, love to rate,
And this pair, bright of breast with chestnut hat –
   Not singing to but shouting at
Like bloodied wrestlers longed to try their weight!

© January 2014


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

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Tree Bark

The rhyme in line 5 of each stanza binds them together.


   I’m too old to be smooth
   With a deep olive sheen
Like the bark of the neat laburnum;
   Or to glitter dark green
   When brusque April rain
Polishes each wart and groove;
And as for a corn-yellow head,
   Soon set, soon shed,
Long gone are my days of quorum.

   I’m too old to have beauty,
   Cream-full and white,
Like the bark of the silver birch;
   Catching the light
   Like a gleam on a pane,
In September dusks it does duty
Guiding labourers home
   Though shadows loom 
And an owl glides from its perch.

   I am old and rough,
   Ragged-grained and grey,
Like the bark of the leaning willow;
   With thin leaves all day
   It dabbles a stain
In the stream, black and buff,
Groaning sore in its boughs
   At the wind’s souse,
Longing for the earth’s pillow.

© October 2013