Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Elegy: Washington Square Revisited

The reference, of course, is to Henry James's novella, Washington Square, although the poem actually ends up with Oedipus in the groves at Colonus and, indeed, at the fateful crossroads themselves. Such is the logic of poems. This 132 line poem is written in my approximation to the classical elegiac metre, i.e. alternating alexandrines and pentameters, although for good measure I have added rhyme in the pentameters. The subject is a personal one, concerning a most significant "other", but perhaps not unusual in these disordered times.


(n m-s)
This is the saddest poem I shall ever write.
   There’s Morris Townsend stalking from the house
Of blameless Catherine, his hat upon his head,
   Smarting disappointment that the meek mouse 
Pursued by him has crushed with vexing dignity 
   His plea that friendship be allowed to grow
Once more, despite the silence of his absent years 
   Spent travelling and getting, and the blow 
Landed brutely a decade since, rejecting her
   Because control of all he wished would not
Be his. What made him think it might be otherwise?
   In agony the years pour back with what
I’d hoped forgotten: broiling storms of obstinate 
   Despair which swamped all sense; unruly surges
Of love and hate which crashed like blackened waves on sands
   Made sumps by spray and rain, and the wind’s dirges
Screaming over the seaweed, soggy as ropes, heaped 
   At the storm-line, crawled across by sand crabs 
Like confessors digging motives. And who’s to blame?
   Where’s forgiveness? My tale, a hand which grabs
Your arm as the stairs turn, may only be resolved 
   In death. Was it a case of opposites?
You used to amplitude, the freedom of fine rooms,
   Where ornament and grace-notes as befits
A dwelling held aloof by the exemplary
   Milch of trust funds, embodied boundaries,
Implicit expectations, always difficult
   For one who kept small rooms, a life of sundries 
And unheated winter mornings to intrude upon. 
   Likewise, love for you was contextual,
Requiring the warm weft of family and friends 
   As setting for commitments functional 
As well as heartfelt; whereas I preferred the cold 
   Mist of sunrise, a soul-denuding calm 
Which offered isolation and intensity
   Of thought on self – that puzzle-in-a-psalm
Wrong-footing every sage and scribbler who has tugged
   A loved one into its transfixing coils. 
O, but memories of grace and giving oversweep: 
   Those moments which up-end the toils and moils
Of passing hours, epiphanising what’s most real 
   In any true commitment – that entrusting
Of each to each, an unconditional bestowing 
   In self-abandonment that knows no musting
Nor peevish motive. I recall a time of play,
   Of guileless teasing, you confronting me
Helpless in laughter, falling in my arms and resting
   In and on them, bodily, psychically – 
Your skin was blushed, your voice as musical as water;
   A boundless moment superseding time
In which the weaker, trusting, was caressed to growth,
   The stronger one, sustaining, sought the prime
Of both, fulfilled that strength might be transposed to being
   And thereby draw the hidden inwardness 
Of persons to a crux of pure communion. 

Friday, 11 March 2016

Months: Lyrics

In March 2012 I decided to write a sequence of twelve poems about the months - all the poems to be in the same form and each written in the month, each based on a close observation of the natural phenomena around me. That original set of 'Months' was posted on 6 February 2015 and is linked here
   I then decided to write another set, this time of shorter lyrics in various sizes, shapes and metres. I started in March 2014 and finished in February 2015. That's the order the poems are meant to be read in, March - February. I now post the complete set.
   For the record, the individual poems were posted on 14 March, 13 April, 9 May, 15 June, 11 July, 8 August, 11 September, 9 October, 14 November, 12 December 2015, 10 January and 15 February 2016. Some of the postings contained a few notes to explain anything unusual in the poems. 
   Also, one or two of the early poems had references to the Christian year which I planned to continue throughout the sequence; unfortunately this fell by the wayside.



March murk done, the chilly dew
Drips from the shock-head churchyard yew,
   Quicksilvers grass,
   Glistens like glass,
Speckling the dusty graves anew.    

Freshly, the tight-fist orange sun
A cloud-tall morning blush has flung;
Daffodils prattle in the breeze,
Blue-skinned crocuses flop and sneeze;   
   The dip-gathered frost
   Like a glint-toothed ghost
Hugs close its winter miseries.    

Drumming its creaking bone-break thud,
The woodpecker, splashed with Jesu’s blood,
   The year’s agonies
   Shrilly cries:
Lady Day primrose lights the wood. 


A winter-absent heron
Returns on the April wind,
Long-legging the lake’s sedges;
Enthralled it spears at a find –           
A tench dies in its passion
Mourned by a mist of midges.        

Shroud-grey and dusty that heron
Corpse-like on parachute wings
Hangs on the lake’s black waters;       
Willow flock froths up and sings,        
The aspen is a white-leaved clarion,
But the heron broods on slaughters.    



The trees are leaved; even the ash
Its many-fingered crown has dressed;    
      Noah’s splash
Must bide a year. With tipsy cheer  
The lopside stare at the bank’s crest     
      Whistles a leer.      

Crazyhead oak with fat-leaf veils
Enswathes itself, aglim with sun;    
      In shadows, snails
Aboard the nettles’ spiteful bristles, 
Thrush-grabbed are cracked to death among 
      The throstle jostled thistles.  

The splay-pined larch drops seed from cones
To fruit in the earth’s spicy pall;    
      With tortured bones,
Christ ascended in His blood’s banner,
Hovers; will He in judgement fall      
      Like the wind-fanner?