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Best Famous John Davidson Poems

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Written by John Davidson | Create an image from this poem

A Ballad of Hell

 'A letter from my love to-day!
Oh, unexpected, dear appeal!'
She struck a happy tear away,
And broke the crimson seal.
'My love, there is no help on earth, No help in heaven; the dead-man's bell Must toll our wedding; our first hearth Must be the well-paved floor of hell.
' The colour died from out her face, Her eyes like ghostly candles shone; She cast dread looks about the place, Then clenched her teeth and read right on.
'I may not pass the prison door; Here must I rot from day to day, Unless I wed whom I abhor, My cousin, Blanche of Valencay.
'At midnight with my dagger keen, I'll take my life; it must be so.
Meet me in hell to-night, my queen, For weal and woe.
' She laughed although her face was wan, She girded on her golden belt, She took her jewelled ivory fan, And at her glowing missal knelt.
Then rose, 'And am I mad?' she said: She broke her fan, her belt untied; With leather girt herself instead, And stuck a dagger at her side.
She waited, shuddering in her room, Till sleep had fallen on all the house.
She never flinched; she faced her doom: They two must sin to keep their vows.
Then out into the night she went, And, stooping, crept by hedge and tree; Her rose-bush flung a snare of scent, And caught a happy memory.
She fell, and lay a minute's space; She tore the sward in her distress; The dewy grass refreshed her face; She rose and ran with lifted dress.
She started like a morn-caught ghost Once when the moon came out and stood To watch; the naked road she crossed, And dived into the murmuring wood.
The branches snatched her streaming cloak; A live thing shrieked; she made no stay! She hurried to the trysting-oak— Right well she knew the way.
Without a pause she bared her breast, And drove her dagger home and fell, And lay like one that takes her rest, And died and wakened up in hell.
She bathed her spirit in the flame, And near the centre took her post; From all sides to her ears there came The dreary anguish of the lost.
The devil started at her side, Comely, and tall, and black as jet.
'I am young Malespina's bride; Has he come hither yet?' 'My poppet, welcome to your bed.
' 'Is Malespina here?' 'Not he! To-morrow he must wed His cousin Blanche, my dear!' 'You lie, he died with me to-night.
' 'Not he! it was a plot' .
'You lie.
' 'My dear, I never lie outright.
' 'We died at midnight, he and I.
' The devil went.
Without a groan She, gathered up in one fierce prayer, Took root in hell's midst all alone, And waited for him there.
She dared to make herself at home Amidst the wail, the uneasy stir.
The blood-stained flame that filled the dome, Scentless and silent, shrouded her.
How long she stayed I cannot tell; But when she felt his perfidy, She marched across the floor of hell; And all the damned stood up to see.
The devil stopped her at the brink: She shook him off; she cried, 'Away!' 'My dear, you have gone mad, I think.
' 'I was betrayed: I will not stay.
' Across the weltering deep she ran; A stranger thing was never seen: The damned stood silent to a man; They saw the great gulf set between.
To her it seemed a meadow fair; And flowers sprang up about her feet She entered heaven; she climbed the stair And knelt down at the mercy-seat.
Seraphs and saints with one great voice Welcomed that soul that knew not fear.
Amazed to find it could rejoice, Hell raised a hoarse, half-human cheer.

Written by John Davidson | Create an image from this poem

War Song

 Remember the Glories of Brien the Brave

Remember the glories of Brien the brave, 
Though the days of the hero are o'er, 
Though lost to Mononia and cold to the grave, 
He returns to Kinkora no more.
That star of the field, which so often hath pour'd Its beam on the battle, is set; But enough of its glory remains on each sword, To light us to victory yet.
Mononia! when Nature embellish'd the tint Of thy fields, and thy mountains so fair, Did she ever intend that a tyrant should print The footstep of slavery there? No! Freedom, whose smile we shall never resign, Go, tell our invaders, the Danes, That 'tis sweeter to bleed for an age at thy shrine, Than to sleep but a moment in chains.
Forget not our wounded companions who stoood In the day of distress by our side; While the moss of the valley grew red with their blood, They stirr'd not, but conquer'd and died.
That sun which now blesses our arms with his light, Saw them fall upon Ossory's plain; -- Oh! let him not blush, when he leaves us to-night, To find that they fell there in vain.
Written by John Davidson | Create an image from this poem


 There is a dish to hold the sea, 
A brazier to contain the sun, 
A compass for the galaxy, 
A voice to wake the dead and done! 

That minister of ministers, 
Imagination, gathers up 
The undiscovered Universe, 
Like jewels in a jasper cup.
Its flame can mingle north and south; Its accent with the thunder strive; The ruddy sentence of its mouth Can make the ancient dead alive.
The mart of power, the fount of will, The form and mould of every star, The source and bound of good and ill, The key of all the things that are, Imagination, new and strange In every age, can turn the year; Can shift the poles and lightly change The mood of men, the world's career.
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Song of a Train

 A monster taught 
To come to hand 
As swift as thought 
Across the land 
The train.
The song it sings Has an iron sound; Its iron wings Like wheels go round.
Crash under bridges, Flash over ridges, And vault the downs; The road is straight -- Nor stile, nor gate; For milestones -- towns! Voluminous, vanishing, white, The steam plume trails; Parallel streaks of light, THe polished rails.
Oh, who can follow? The little swallow, The trout of the sky: But the sun Is outrun, And Time passed by.
O'er bosky dens, By marsh and mead, Forest and fens Embodied speed Is clanked and hurled; O'er rivers and runnels; And into the earth And out again In death and birth That know no pain, For the whole round world Is a warren of railway tunnels.
Hark! hark! hark! It screams and cleaves the dark; And the subterranean night Is gilt with smoky light.
Then out again apace It runs its thundering race, The monster taught To come to hand Amain, That swift as thought Speeds through the land The train.
Written by John Davidson | Create an image from this poem


 Late December: my father and I
are going to New York, to the circus.
He holds me on his shoulders in the bitter wind: scraps of white paper blow over the railroad ties.
My father liked to stand like this, to hold me so he couldn't see me.
I remember staring straight ahead into the world my father saw; I was learning to absorb its emptiness, the heavy snow not falling, whirling around us.

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Thirty Bob a Week

 I couldn't touch a stop and turn a screw,
And set the blooming world a-work for me,
Like such as cut their teeth -- I hope, like you --
On the handle of a skeleton gold key;
I cut mine on a leek, which I eat it every week:
I'm a clerk at thirty bob as you can see.
But I don't allow it's luck and all a toss; There's no such thing as being starred and crossed; It's just the power of some to be a boss, And the bally power of others to be bossed: I face the music, sir; you bet I ain't a cur; Strike me lucky if I don't believe I'm lost! For like a mole I journey in the dark, A-travelling along the underground From my Pillar'd Halls and broad Suburbean Park, To come the daily dull official round; And home again at night with my pipe all alight, A-scheming how to count ten bob a pound.
And it's often very cold and very wet, And my missus stitches towels for a hunks; And the Pillar'd Halls is half of it to let-- Three rooms about the size of travelling trunks.
And we cough, my wife and I, to dislocate a sigh, When the noisy little kids are in their bunks.
But you never hear her do a growl or whine, For she's made of flint and roses, very odd; And I've got to cut my meaning rather fine, Or I'd blubber, for I'm made of greens and sod: So p'r'haps we are in Hell for all that I can tell, And lost and damn'd and served up hot to God.
I ain't blaspheming, Mr.
Silver-tongue; I'm saying things a bit beyond your art: Of all the rummy starts you ever sprung, Thirty bob a week's the rummiest start! With your science and your books and your the'ries about spooks, Did you ever hear of looking in your heart? I didn't mean your pocket, Mr.
, no: I mean that having children and a wife, With thirty bob on which to come and go, Isn't dancing to the tabor and the fife: When it doesn't make you drink, by Heaven! it makes you think, And notice curious items about life.
I step into my heart and there I meet A god-almighty devil singing small, Who would like to shout and whistle in the street, And squelch the passers flat against the wall; If the whole world was a cake he had the power to take, He would take it, ask for more, and eat them all.
And I meet a sort of simpleton beside, The kind that life is always giving beans; With thirty bob a week to keep a bride He fell in love and married in his teens: At thirty bob he stuck; but he knows it isn't luck: He knows the seas are deeper than tureens.
And the god-almighty devil and the fool That meet me in the High Street on the strike, When I walk about my heart a-gathering wool, Are my good and evil angels if you like.
And both of them together in every kind of weather Ride me like a double-seated bike.
That's rough a bit and needs its meaning curled.
But I have a high old hot un in my mind -- A most engrugious notion of the world, That leaves your lightning 'rithmetic behind: I give it at a glance when I say 'There ain't no chance, Nor nothing of the lucky-lottery kind.
' And it's this way that I make it out to be: No fathers, mothers, countres, climates -- none; Not Adam was responsible for me, Nor society, nor systems, nary one: A little sleeping seed, I woke -- I did, indeed -- A million years before the blooming sun.
I woke because I thought the time had come; Beyond my will there was no other cause; And everywhere I found myself at home, Because I chose to be the thing I was; And in whatever shape of mollusc or of ape I always went according to the laws.
I was the love that chose my mother out; I joined two lives and from the union burst; My weakness and my strength without a doubt Are mine alone for ever from the first: It's just the very same with a difference in the name As 'Thy will be done.
' You say it if you durst! They say it daily up and down the land As easy as you take a drink, it's true; But the difficultest go to understand, And the difficultest job a man can do, Is to come it brave and meek with thirty bob a week, And feel that that's the proper thing for you.
It's a naked child against a hungry wolf; It's playing bowls upon a splitting wreck; It's walking on a string across a gulf With millstones fore-and-aft about your neck; But the thing is daily done by many and many a one; And we fall, face forward, fighting, on the deck.
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A Runnable Stag

 When the pods went pop on the broom, green broom, 
And apples began to be golden-skinn'd, 
We harbour'd a stag in the Priory coomb, 
And we feather'd his trail up-wind, up-wind, 
We feather'd his trail up-wind- 
A stag of warrant, a stag, a stag, 
A runnable stag, a kingly crop, 
Brow, bay and tray and three on top, 
A stag, a runnable stag.
Then the huntsman's horn rang yap, yap yap, And 'Forwards' we heard the harbourer shout; But 'twas only a brocket that broke a gap In the beechen underwood, driven out, From the underwood antler'd out By warrant and might of the stag, the stag, The runnable stag, whose lordly mind Was bent on sleep though beam'd and tined He stood, a runnable stag So we tufted the covert till afternoon With Tinkerman's Pup and Bell- of-the-North; And hunters were sulky and hounds out of tune Before we tufted the right stag forth, Before we tufted him forth, The stag of warrant, the wily stag, The runnable stag with his kingly crop, Brow, bay and tray and three on top, The royal and runnable stag.
It was Bell-of-the-North and Tinkerman's Pup That stuck to the scent till the copse was drawn.
'Tally ho! tally ho!' and the hunt was up, The tufters whipp'd and the pack laid on, The resolute pack laid on, And the stag of warrant away at last, The runnable stag, the same, the same, His hoofs on fire, his horns like flame, A stag, a runnable stag.
'Let your gelding be: if you check or chide He stumbles at once and you're out of the hunt For three hundred gentlemen, able to ride, On hunters accustom'd to bear the brunt, Accustom'd to bear the brunt, Are after the runnable stag, the stag, The runnable stag with his kingly crop, Brow, bay and tray and three on top, The right, the runnable stag.
By perilous paths in coomb and dell, The heather, the rocks, and the river-bed, The pace grew hot, for the scent lay well, And a runnable stag goes right ahead, The quarry went right ahead-- Ahead, ahead, and fast and far; His antler'd crest, his cloven hoof, Brow, bay and tray and three aloof, The stag, the runnable stag.
For a matter of twenty miles and more, By the densest hedge and the highest wall, Through herds of bullocks lie baffled the lore Of harbourer, huntsman, hounds and all, Of harbourer, hounds and all The stag of warrant, the wily stag, For twenty miles, and five and five, He ran, and he never was caught alive, This stag, this runnable stag.
When he turn'd at bay in the leafy gloom, In the emerald gloom where the brook ran deep He heard in the distance the rollers boom, And he saw In a vision of peaceful sleep In a wonderful vision of sleep, A stag of warrant, a stag, a stag, A runnable stag in a jewell'd bed, Under the sheltering ocean dead, A stag, a runnable stag.
So a fateful hope lit up his eye, And he open'd his nostrils wide again, And he toss'd his branching antlers high As he headed the hunt down the Charlock glen, As he raced down the echoing glen For five miles more, the stag, the stag, For twenty miles, and five and five, Not to be caught now, dead or alive, The stag, the runnable stag.
Three hundred gentleman, able to ride, Three hundred horses as gallant and free, Beheld him escape on the evening tide, Far out till he sank in the Severn Sea, Till he sank in the depths of the sea The stag, the buoyant stag, the stag That slept at last in a jewell'd bed Under the sheltering ocean spread, The stag, the runnable stag.
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 The war of words is done;
The red-lipped cannon speak;
The battle has begun.
The web your speeches spun Tears and blood shall streak; The war of words is done.
Smoke enshrouds the sun; Earth staggers at the shriek Of battle new begun.
Poltroons and braggarts run: Woe to the poor, the meek! The war of words is done.
"And hope not now to shun The doom that dogs the weak," Thunders every gun; "Victory must be won.
" When the red-lipped cannon speak, The war of words is done, The slaughter has begun.
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 In the gloom of whiteness, 
In the great silence of snow, 
A child was sighing 
And bitterly saying: "Oh, 
They have killed a white bird up there on her nest, 
The down is fluttering from her breast!" 
And still it fell through that dusky brightness 
On the child crying for the bird of the snow.
Written by John Davidson | Create an image from this poem


 The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was 
Spawning snow and pink rose against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible: 
World is suddener than we fancy it.
World is crazier and more of it than we think, Incorrigibly plural.
I peel and portion A tangerine and spit the pips and feel The drunkenness of things being various.
And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes -- On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one's hands-- There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.